The Guardian April 21, 1999


Bilingual education fightback in NT

The decision of the Northern Territory Government (announced in 
December) to scrap bilingual education programs in NT schools led to wide 
criticism from Aboriginal communities, organisations, ATSIC, educators, 
linguists, some members of the Federal and NT Governments and the 
Australian Education Union.

At a rally in Alice Springs in December around 300 people supported 
speakers who expressed their outrage that the decision had been taken in 
the first place and that it had been taken without any consultation with 
Aboriginal communities. 

Thousands of children and adults around the Territory want their bilingual 
education program.

Fiona McLoughlin, principal of the Alice Spring's Yipirinya School which 
runs bilingual programs pointed out that "the significance of bilingual 
education is that Aboriginal people are finally able to be involved in the 
education of their children before they are alienated".

Passing on traditional knowledge and learning things from parents and 
grandparents is a major educational and cultural step in making children 
proud of their culture. They come to regard it as something that is highly 
valued by society and want to preserve it.

Historically, colonisers have always tried to erase native languages as a 
means of imposing their own rules and culture. One only has to look several 
decades back to come across the practice of forbidding children to talk 
their own language when separated from their parents and communities. The 
practice has been universally condemned. Now, at the end of the 20th 
century the NT Government comes up with a plan to once again attack the 
culture of the indigenous people. 

Mr Adamson, NT Education Minister said it was the responsibility of 
Aboriginal communities and not the NT Government to teach languages and 
culture.  

But when children see that the language of their community is regarded as 
equally important as other school subjects they learn to appreciate the 
language of their elders. 

Aboriginal languages should not be compared to other foreign languages 
taught in schools. If Estonian or Italian is not taught in Australian 
schools it does not mean that Estonian or Italian languages will disappear 
from the face of the earth. They will continue to be spoken in Italy and 
Estonia. 

Aboriginal languages are in a different situation. If a language is not 
taught and passed on it dies with the last person who speaks it. And this 
is happening. Some years ago Noel Pearson told of meeting an old man on 
Yorke Peninsula who was the last surviving speaker of his language. 

Northern Territory should be putting more money and resources into 
indigenous language school programs, not cutting them. The NT Government 
must explain how it takes a 50 per cent "administration" cut from funding 
for indigenous education out of the $10 million allocated in Federal 
Government funding.

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