Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Linguisticaly Barren

Last night 4 Corners (The ABC's real current affairs program) did a feature story on the threat to dismantle the bilingual education program in NT Schools.
Once again this is an issue of extreme importance and relevance to the future of several Australian cultures and languages that most Australians don't seem to be remotely aware of or even care very much about.
The 4 corners website has posted the whole story including additional interviews and a whole bunch of associated articles on the web page for this story that is well worth looking at.
"Going back to Lagamanu"

Although I am not an educator and as my friends and the education departments of Victoria and NT will attest... Barely Educated. I am interested in the concept of Bilingual Education and also in it's perceived failures.

From what I can tell after having to research it for a school report a few years ago and speaking to some people who'd hoped their kids could be taught the basics of language in their mother tongue; not to mention a couple of teachers whose skills are no longer relevant to the NT education department. There are some obvious failings in the System!

Yes it seems quite obvious that there are some extremely serious problems that can't be resolved and therefor the dominant culture has determined that total assimilation or annihilation is the only course of action! Someone's gotta take the blame for the fact that children in Aboriginal communities aren't achieving academically so it makes perfect sense that the Government and the Education department are choosing to hold Aboriginal Culture as the only culprit!

Is the bilingual approach really the failure? Or could the failures really lie in the lack of meaningful support from the education department? lack of real commitment and understanding from Government? What if appropriately trained teachers were available? If educators sent to communities had even an inkling of the culture they were about to enter prior to arriving? If senior administrators and principals worked in partnership with local communities? If the multitude of social problems faced by the communities were addressed successfully? If basic health and nutritional needs were adequate? If Australians didn't just want to relegate Aboriginal language and culture to the corner of some cute anthropological stage show for tourists!

I recall the discussion I had with my teacher back at TAFE when I discussed the program with her. I was surprised by her own hostility toward the bilingual program. What I sensed was a lack of appreciation for Aboriginal Language and the importance of culture. But most noticeable was her apparent resentment that the bilingual program required more funding than other schools. As a teacher I expect she had witnessed the whittling away of resources for education. Unfortunately rather than fighting the common enemy when times are tough, desperation seems to lead people to turn on their neigbour. Resentment and bitterness well up if there are perceived inequities and the State or education department are too big to fight so wham blame those who might receive more funding. Since teachers, according to my observations, are highly political animals, I'd say bilingual schools received more than their share of unsympathetic staff. There would have been opponenets on the payroll all the way back to it's inception.

I think I know why the Government finger is pointed at Bilingual Education. It is because bilingual education can be easily used as a smoke screen for quite great injustices before the eyes of the generally ignorant voting masses. The smoke screen would be something like this:
"They're not even speaking English! No wonder those kiddies aren't making the grade! Bilingual Education stands in the way of our benevolent education system and government from educating the poor little black kids. It hasn't succeeded in turning around the multitude of problems faced by people in remote communities and therefore must be responsible for them!"

Personally I think the Government is just trying to eliminate the program because it is a clear indication of their own failure! The real question should not be 'has bilingual education failed?' But rather "Why did out Government and Education department Fail the bilingual program by not fully supporting and engaging with Aboriginal communities in a mutually respectful way?"

Dear Mr Henderson. Please don't say hello to me again in the street, or at the local market. Don't attempt to shake my hand at the next Multicultural day or kiss my babies if I see you on election day. You've blown it.


Theresa said...

While I think that it is obviously important for Aboriginal people to have the ability to engage with the broader Australian public and government, I wonder sometimes about whether the people in these communities actually even want to speak english. It would be the equivalent of going to France and telling them that instead of learning english for an hour a day, their whole schoolday would be in the english language.

Part of the hostility towards bilingual programs is no doubt what you have said, about pinting out government failures, but I also think that the ongoing existence of Aboriginal languages is threatening to the government's assimilationist plans, which let's face it, are still the norm!

David J said...

Thanks for your comment Theresa,
Yes assimilation appears to be full steam ahead here in the NT!
Fortunately there are some real treasures living amongst us who will continue to resist! They need all the support they can get.