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.