Bilingual Education in the NT until October 14, 2008


Chronology: The Bilingual Education Policy in the Northern Territory until 14 October 2008

from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as a part of a FOUR CORNERS program 

aired on 14 September 2009, Going back to Lajamnu

The first Aboriginal school in Central Australia was established in 1887 at Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission (now Ntaria community). Instruction and literacy teaching was in both English and Western Arrarnta from around 1896.

The foundations of this policy change were really laid in the 1960s. The Watts-Gallacher Report (1964, p.71) had advocated bilingual education as the ideal approach for the Northern Territory, even though the authors considered that the program would not be viable.

In 1968 Joy Kinslow-Harris wrote a paper arguing that bilingual education was definitely possible, provided Aboriginal people were allowed to do the teaching in their own languages through a system of team-teaching in partnership with qualified non-Aboriginal teachers. Her proposal was picked up in 1971 at a National Workshop where it was recommended that "...pilot projects be established."

December Bilingual education in the NT began as a Federal Labor initiative a few hours after Gough Whitlam's government had been elected. The Federal Minister of Education at the time was Kim Beazley Senior. In a letter to The Australian in December 1998, Mr Beazley explained that bilingual programs were favoured at the time as the best route to mastery of English as a second language.


The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;

Angurugu - Anindilyakwa language

Areyonga - Pitjantjatjara language

Hermannsburg - Arrernte language

Milingimbi - Gupapuyngu language

Warruwi, Goulburn Island - Maung language

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
Oenpelli (Gunbalanya) - Kunwinjku language (The program lasted four years.)
Shepherdson College, Galiwin'ku - Djambarrpuyngu language, originally Gupapuyngu
St Therese's (now Murrupurtiyanuwu) - Tiwi language
Yayayai (Papunya outstation) - Pintupi-Luritja language
Yirrkala - Dhuwaya language & dialects
Yuendumu - Warlpiri language, formerly Gumatj
Bathurst Island started a Model 1 program in Tiwi and English in 1974.

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
Pularumpi (formerly Garden Point) - Tiwi language (The program lasted two years.)

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
Barunga (formerly Bamyili) - Kriol (The program lasted approximately 16 years.)
Haasts Bluff - Pintupi-Luritja language
Numbulwar - Nunggubuyu language
Wadeye - Murrinhpatha language (The program lasted four years and recommenced in 1996.)

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
Umbakumba - Anindilyakwa language (The program lasted approximately five years.)
Willowra - Warlpiri language
Bilingual programs then entered a consolidation phase (1978-1986). 'Consolidation' was essentially understood to mean that there was no money available to establish new programs.

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
Maningrida - Ndjébbana language

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
Docker River - Pitjantjatjara language

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
M'Bunghara Homeland Centre - Pintupi/ Luritja languages (The program lasted nine years.)
Waityawanu - Pintupi/ Luritja languages

The NT Government endorsed the continuation of bilingual programs with a list of eight aims, the first of which was

'To develop competency in English (reading and writing) and in mathematics to the level required on leaving school to function without disadvantage in the wider Australian community.'

This was a shift from the earlier statement in 1975: 'To help each child to believe in himself and be proud of his heritage by the regular use of the Aboriginal language in school and by learning about Aboriginal culture.' It represented a shift of focus from maintenance of language and culture to a transition to English.

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
Lajamanu (formerly Hooker Creek) - Warlpiri language

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
Walungurru (Kintore) - Pintupi/Luritja language
Yipirinya became an official independent Aboriginal school with a bilingual program in four language varieties, after having operated as a 'de facto' program for several years: Eastern Arrernte; Pitjantjatjara; Warlpiri; Western Arrernte languages.

Staff reductions and a decline in funding support for programs began to affect operations in bilingual schools from around 1984 onwards.

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
Papunya - Pintupi-Luritja language

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
Maningrida - Burarra language (Established in response to "strong community requests.")
Nyirrpi - Warlpiri language

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
Mount Liebig - Pintupi-Luritja language

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) - Eastern Arrernte (Established as a result of local initiative.)
In 1989 Lajamanu School topped all government Aboriginal schools in the Territory in the Education Department's own externally-administered moderated testing programmes in English. Internal tests conducted in the school also showed a steady improvement in academic achievement over the years.

The NT schools which took on a bilingual program in this year were;
Numbulwar - Nunggubuyu language (The program was re-established as a result of local initiative.)
By the late 1990s there was a decline in the number of trained Indigenous teachers in schools generally, and in the number of teachers proficient in their traditional languages. A major reason for this was a reduction in training opportunities at the Batchelor Institute for Indigenous Tertiary Education (BIITE), the main institution training Indigenous teachers.

1 December The Country Liberal Party made a decision to "...progressively withdraw the Bilingual Education program, allowing schools to share in the savings and better resource the English language programs."

The CLP Treasurer (Mike Reid) and Minister for Education (Peter Adamson) announced in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly that bilingual education programs would be phased out in favour of the "further development of ESL programs."
Three reasons were provided;

Firstly, Aboriginal people were overwhelmingly concerned about the operation of the bilingual program.

Secondly, it was claimed that students in bilingual programs were not performing as well as their peers.

The third reason for the decision was that the government wanted to trim the education budget.

The move resulted in communities, teachers, linguists and educators rallying in defence of bilingual education, and a petition to Parliament with over 3,000 signatures.

Following pressure from communities and the Bilingual lobby, the NT government commissioned the "Learning Lessons" review (co-authored by Bob Collins and Tess Lea). Its terms were to look into the delivery of education to Indigenous students in the NT.

Some comments from the report include:

"...the review conducted in-depth case studies of forty-four schools across the Northern Territory...Of these forty-four case studies, thirteen were bilingual schools. The review was principally interested in parental concerns and issues to do with educational effectiveness. Key questions guiding the review were: What do Indigenous parents, children and communities want from schools? What is going well? What is not going so well? What are the strategies for the future?"

One remote area school submitted their Bilingual Appraisal Report, commenting:

"This is a strong document, it is our word. But now we think that no-one in the Education Department has read our reports because now you are paying people to come and ask us what we want again. Every year you ask us and every year we tell you but you don't listen to what we say. Some community members say that you will keep asking until we tell you that we want to be Balanda, then you'll stop asking. We are not Balanda, our skin will always be black." (page 37)

The Collins review noted strong community support for bilingual education and gave qualified support to continuing it - albeit with the name change to 'two-way' learning.

The policy decision reached was that: with 'two-way' learning, local languages are used primarily as a means of teaching English literacy. A key difference is we will be tracking student attendance and their progress much more rigorously. (Lugg, 2004)

By the late 1990s the program Advancing Indigenous Literacy through Intervention for Hearing Disabilities had begun to operate in six schools in conjunction with the Menzies School of Health Research.
The report "State of Indigenous Languages in Australia - 2001" expresses the view that:

"The end of bilingual education in the Northern Territory represents a serious setback for Indigenous languages... Not only have some language programs and positions related to indigenous language programs been lost but the status of Indigenous languages has been downgraded significantly within the education system, even though the Northern Territory Education Department argues that some programs may proceed at individual schools within a 'Two Ways' framework." (McConvell, 2001)

The report refers to the NT's 'Two Way Learning Program' as having 'marginal' status. While the practice of schools did not change with the program name change, it is interesting to note that from 1998 to 2000 the number of government schools offering a bilingual education program reduced from sixteen to twelve schools.

The Ramsey report (DEET and Ramsey 2003) entitled The Indigenous Languages and Culture in NT Schools Review laid the way to dismantling bilingual education programs in the Northern Territory. It challenged the educational reasons for supporting them on the grounds of reported concerns by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people about children's abilities to read and write in SAE, and doubts about the value of learning to read and write in traditional languages.

The need for strong ESL support for the students was discussed. The report expressed respect for the identity reasons for supporting languages, but raised the question of whether the schools should play a role in helping Indigenous peoples maintain languages.

In 2004 two NT Government schools lost accreditation to provide the Two-Way program. They were Nyirrpi School and Watiyawanu school; two small schools that were serviced by teacher linguists from Yuendumu CEC and Papunya School, respectively. Nyirrpi and Watiyawanu were unable to complete the requirements of the Two Way Learning review processes, and lacked the staff and resources to continue.
In 2004 there were ten government schools and one independent school offering Two Way Learning programs, in addition to the three Catholic schools who offered Bilingual Education programs. Consultations in 2004 found that the majority of Two Way Learning schools attempted to use the 'step' approach. Some schools report that they have a 50/50 model with equal hours of instruction and literacy in both languages from the beginning years of schooling.

The NT schools with Two Way Learning/Bilingual programs in 2004 were:

Government Schools:
Areyonga School; Lajamanu CEC; Maningrida CEC; Milingimbi CEC; Numbulwar CEC; Papunya School; Shepherdson College; Galiwin'ku; Willowra CEC; Yirrkala CEC; Yuendumu CEC.

Catholic Schools:
Murrupurtiyaunwu; Nguiu; Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Wadeye; Ltyentye Apurte CEC; Santa Theresa.

Independent Schools:
Yipirinya School, Alice Springs.
The total cost of the Two Way Learning Program in 2004 (not including bilingual programs in non-government schools) was $3.14 million. This includes all staffing and operational funds to schools and DEET system support costs, and school based literature production centres producing Indigenous language classroom materials that cannot be sourced commercially.

The Indigenous Languages and Culture in NT Schools - 2004-05 report (authored by Margaret Banks) recommended two models of bilingual education: the 'staircase' model and the dual early literacy model (or the '50/50' model). Both models include the teaching of oracy and literacy in English and the Indigenous language.
24 August 2005 Syd Stirling, Minister for Education, announced in NT parliament that bilingual education was back on the government's agenda because it was recognised to be "an important teaching methodology".

The NT Indigenous Education Strategic Plan 2006-2009, gave new assurances for the next five-year period:

"Bilingual education is a formal model of dual language use where students' first language is used as a language for learning across the curriculum, while at the same time they are learning to use English as a second language for learning across the curriculum."

There are 11 programs in ten Territory Government schools that use a bilingual model. The bilingual programs are effective overseas and give an indication of positive results in the Territory. DEET will strengthen the bilingual program and improve its effectiveness and sustainability to deliver outcomes.

21 June The Australian Government announced the intervention - a 'national emergency response to protect Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory' from sexual abuse and family violence.

The National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) commenced in Australian schools. All students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are assessed using national tests in Reading, Writing, Language Conventions (Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation) and Numeracy.
12 September The first set of national skills test results (NAPLAN) are released.

There were eight schools with bilingual programs in the Northern Territory, which were:

Lajamanu; Maningrida; Milingimbi; Numbulwar; Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Thamarrur Catholic School; Shepherdson College;d Yirrkala and Yuendemu.

14 October 2008

The then Minister for Education and Training, Marion Scrymgour, announced that all schooling in Northern Territory schools was to be conducted in English only for the first four hours of every school day (Memorandum 2008/2527).

A Northern Territory Government policy statement said there would be, "Compulsory teaching in English for the first four hours of each school day" (NT DET, 2008c).

The reason for this policy shift was said to be the poor comparative performance of remote NT students on the national skills tests in 2008, particularly the scores obtained by students in schools with bilingual programs.

Once the national results had been released on September 12th, the Government's response was forthright. The NT Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, deplored the results for the NT, explained that "the worst cases came from remote schools".

When threatening to resign from the Labor Government, opposing their stance on the Government's policy on dismantling Homelands, Ms Scrymgour said she "also regretted her stance on Bilingual Education" NT News 2010


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