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Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs
04/04/2012
Language learning in Indigenous communities

BAARDA, Mrs Wendy

GALLAGHER, Mrs Enid Nangala, Warlpiri-patu-kurlangu Jaru Inc.

MARTIN, Ms Barbara Napanangka, Chairperson, Warlpiri-patu-kurlangu Jaru Inc.

MORRIS, Mr Hamilton Japaljarri, Warlpiri-patu-kurlangu Jaru Inc.

OLDFIELD, Mr Riley Jupurrurla, Warlpiri-patu-kurlangu Jaru Inc.

SPENCER, Mr Jacob Jungarrayi, Warlpiri-patu-kurlangu Jaru Inc.

WAYNE, Ms Maisie Napurrurla, Warlpiri-patu-kurlangu Jaru Inc.

[15:07]

CHAIR: I welcome representatives from your community here today. We understand that some more people are coming. We do thank you for taking the time to come here. We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet and pay our respects to elders past, present and future. Thank you for coming so far. Thank you for your submission as well. I invite you to make a brief statement at the beginning, if you wish. Mr Oldfield then spoke in Warlpiri

Mr Morris then spoke in Warlpiri

Mrs Baarda : I have lived in Yuendumu since 1973 and been involved in our two-way program until it was ended by the four-hour English rule. I still work at the school, mostly voluntarily. Sometimes for special things I get paid.

Ms Martin : I am one of the teachers at Yuendumu school. I am also a chairperson for Warlpiri-patu-kurlangu Jaru Inc. Warlpiri-patu-kurlangu Jaru means Warlpiri triangle. Maisie Wane came all the way from Yuendumu to meet you.

Mrs Gallagher : I came to listen and share our ideas.

Mr Oldfield : I came here to listen to you mob. Also, my sister works at the school. She is a teacher.

Ms Martin : I am also a qualified teacher and have done all my four-year training.

Mr Spencer : I am a community chair person in Nyirrpi. I came because Warlpiri education is important to us.

Mr Morris : I am involved with young people in the mentor program at Nyirrpi. We encourage young people to make videos, music and all that. I am a musician myself. We do our own recording out there. I am also a community store manager.

CHAIR: Would you like to make a brief introductory statement about the importance of your language to you and how it can benefit not just your community but young people as well.

Mr Spencer then spoke in Warlpiri

Mr Spencer : I just said it is important for us to speak to a new born, a kid that is born, in Warlpiri when they are a child. We like to teach them in Warlpiri first because that is the only language that is important to our kids. It is really important for us to teach them Warlpiri first and English later. I have just translated that.

Ms Martin then spoke in Warlpiri

Ms Martin : I just said that we want to talk in our language. We want to recognise that Warlpiri is a strong language for our children and us and to keep it going so that we cannot lose it. Warlpiri is important for our kids and their kids and for later generations. We are Warlpiri people and it is our identity. We are Warlpiri people and Warlpiri is the language that we want to keep going for our kids so that we do not lose it. That is why we are talking in our language and translating it back to you.

Dr STONE: You obviously have more than 30 years experience in the education system, Barbara, as have numbers of the rest of you here today. You have lived through the bilingual era—shall I call it—that the Northern Territory government approved of in some schools. Now you are in the four-hour English-only era and you have made a lot of observations—you have looked at how those compare. Can you tell us the number of children now not coming school compared to before? The truancy rates for example? The retention rates? Can you compare those two systems for us? How they are panning out in terms of children wanting to go to school, enjoying school, keeping their traditional languages and also learning English?

Mr Morris : Sometimes children miss school for various reasons, like for sorry, culture and all that and for men's business. Sometimes white teachers do not understand about our culture and how important it is, like Barbara was saying earlier on. That is very important. It is in our heart. It is everywhere, like the plants and the trees. That means a lot to us. It has got a story there, a dreaming there, you know? A plant to you might be an ordinary plant but it represents bush medicine, you know—it heals.

Ms Martin then spoke in Warlpiri

Ms Martin : In the last Warlpiri tribes [Warlpiri language not transcribed] before that we used to have remote learning partnership meetings with some of the people who are working for the Northern Territory government.

[Walpiri language not transcribed]. They used to have lots of meetings with us about how we could share our Walpiri. We gave all our ideas to them and they said in the last Walpiri triangle that they were going to support Walpiri for a long time. [Walpiri language not transcribed]. At the last Walpiri triangle that we had a lady came and said that there would be a whole hour of English and one hour of Walpiri. There were two things that we were not coping with. We were doing workshops and having meetings because they wanted us to sign an agreement for the remote learning partnerships.

At first things were getting better and we were talking about keeping things in Walpiri and how we could teach our kids in the school. We talked a lot about that but then things changed. They were coming back and giving us changes that they had made that we were not happy about. At the very end we said that we did not want to sign the agreement. At that time we had four hours of English and one hour of Walpiri being taught in the classroom. We were not happy about that. The kids were finding it really hard to learn English. Now they are learning English; they are getting it, but we are still worried about our Walpiri. We do not want to lose it. As a teacher, I have been working at teaching both languages. At that time we were not happy about the four hours English but now things are getting better for our kids. One of the main things was attendance. Some kids were not coming but now that is getting better and the kids are coming. The only problem that we have is with the teenagers in secondary. Our school does not have proper secondary class.

Dr STONE: So the kids are coming more often to the secondary classes now?

Mrs Baarda : Not to the secondary. We have a problem with secondary students. It is only the kids in early childhood, primary and some in the middle years that are coming back, not the teenagers. We do have one, two or three teenagers, secondary-age students, who come, but our school does not have a proper secondary class.

Mr HAASE: Enid, did you want to say something about that and answer that same question?

Dr STONE: Also, do you have anything to add about comparing the bilingual programs of old and the four hours English today and how the students are responding to those two different types of schooling?

Mrs Gallagher : The kids in the classroom have problems with having another teacher there and no Indigenous worker. They have problems with listening and talking. It is better to have an Indigenous worker so the kids can understand and talk to the teacher in language. They used to have elders coming in, helping the Indigenous teachers with some words. Today there are no elders in the classrooms.

Mr HAASE: Just continuing along the same line of questioning, how many of you were teaching as fully-fledged teachers and how many of you were teaching as education assistants? Were you a teacher or an assistant, Enid?

Mrs Gallagher : I was a teaching assistant. I did my training through the Batchelor Institute.

Mr HAASE: But you were not fully paid as a full-time teacher?

Mrs Gallagher : No.

Mr HAASE: Maisie, were you?

Ms Martin : No. She is just a person who cooks. She is doing a literacy program.

Mr HAASE: And Barbara? You were a fully-fledged teacher paid equally to a Kardiya teacher?

Ms Martin : Yes. Wendy was a teacher too.

Mr HAASE: And Wendy. I am sorry; I am not excluding you, Wendy. Are any of the men teaching?

Mr Morris : No.

Mr HAASE: Is there a barrier that we can understand as to why there are not many men teaching in schools or assisting in classrooms, perhaps to take separate boys or young men's classes? Is there something cultural that you could share with us in that regard?

Mr Morris : At the moment, for jobs that are being advertised anywhere in town or in cities, especially in the Northern Territory, sometimes the Aboriginal person has not got the qualifications for teaching. That person might be educated, but you have got to do a police check and all sorts of things before going for a job. There are mainly only female workers. There are only white people working there who are teachers. [Indigenous language not translated] These people who have come come from cities and they do not know the knowledge of our law and culture and our kids. I am getting to the question that you are asking us. Like I said, sometimes our people try but find it hard to work in jobs, especially teaching. I might have the experience and the skills, but if I want an interview for the job they will not let me.

Mr HAASE: What you are saying is: there is not a cultural reason.

Mr Morris : No, there is no cultural reason.

Ms Martin : Before, we used to have three men working at Yuendumu school. They have retired, finished working, and now they are trying to get in and get a job. They need to get police checks and they need to get an ochre card. And ochre card is for working with the children. Some men who want to work at the school may have been in prison, and that is why they cannot get through it. They need to get a police check. Mostly, we get men involved in culture days. We take them out bush and they teach young men and boys and we teach young girls and young women.

Mr HAASE: Does that mean the involvement of the men has to be on a voluntary basis?

Ms Martin : On cultural day we learn about traditional—

Mr HAASE: So for cultural work there is an exclusion for having the card?

Ms Martin : No, it is not for that. The ochre card is for teaching in the classroom.

Mr HAASE: You do not need the card for outside work, the cultural work?

Ms Martin : No, we do not need that because we are all Aboriginal and we know our culture and our language and we want to teach our kids in our language so that they can learn about their kinship, their Dreaming and their country, and we take them out bush on excursion. That is where most of our teaching and learning comes from, from the bush, and we bring them back to school so that in the classroom we can do follow-ups for our culture days and culture nights from what we do out bush.

The kids all come to school and they learn English, maths and everything, but they also learn Walpiri in the school. At the moment they are learning English as a first language. The first language is only one hour, while the second language is four hours. That is how it is happening at our schools.

Mr HAASE: Do you believe that results from the NAPLAN testing are going to have an impact in your school?

Ms Martin : Mostly, NAPLAN testing is only for English, not for our language.

Mr HAASE: Now that we have introduced the four-hour English, no longer bilingual, is that going to improve the results for the NAPLAN test? I believe that it was the poor results for NAPLAN that made the change, the four-hour English rule, and took away the bilingual. So do you think now that the NAPLAN results will improve or are they irrelevant?

Mr Morris : I think that it will improve as long as there is an Indigenous person there. Kids will feel uncomfortable if there is no Indigenous teacher in that classroom. They will feel uneasy—

Ms Martin : With NAPLAN testing, kids have got to do that test, but they learn English with both the Kardiya teacher and Indigenous teacher there and they need to do it by themselves—it has got to come out from them. We are going to have to do NAPLAN testing lower.

CHAIR: They are at a disadvantage, aren't they?

Mr HAASE: Yes, it is very difficult.

Ms Martin : It is really difficult. I cannot even sit with the child now—

Mr HAASE: I understand. I am just trying get onto the record your point of view about whether the reason for changing from the bilingual system, which was to improve NAPLAN results, might work or not work.

Ms Martin : I do not really know.

Mr HAASE: I understand that you do not know, but just what you think from the heart.

Ms Martin : I think that we want our kids to learn both languages so that they can be balanced. If that NAPLAN testing was also for our language, they would be balanced. But if English is up there and our language down here, we do not understand how we can teach our language to our kids. They can speak the language, they can do anything, they can go hunting—they could do those kinds of things.

Mr HAASE: Our city kids cannot.

Ms Martin : You would not survive out bush.

CHAIR: Wendy, you are sitting there quietly, can we hear from you? You have lived in this community a very long time and I am interested to hear what you have to say in terms of the importance of language from your observations as a schoolteacher.

Mrs Baarda : I have seen attendance go up and down and up and down, and it is still going up and down and up and down. I do not think that the program makes any difference to attendance. That is tied to people's lives and the traumas in their lives and their need to move away because white people take their people away to jail or to hospital or wherever else, and the kids are moving around a lot. Once, someone did a study of how many kids in the community came to school on a day and it was over 90 per cent. But on the rolls it is always around 50 to 60 per cent, and that is not counting the fact that kids are actually not there. When they are there, people send them to school.

The NAPLAN tests are very unsuitable for Aboriginal kids speaking a second language. I do not think English-speaking kids would do well either in NAPLAN tests if they were tested in a different language. At year 3 and year 5, how can they learn what those other kids have been learning all their lives in three years? It is impossible. The miracle is that we have one or two really linguistically gifted children every year who do actually get benchmark 1 in NAPLAN tests. In the last lot of testing, one of Barbara's grandchildren, who is in year 3, made it to benchmark, probably because she learns at home. NAPLAN tests are not suitable. They should have different tests for ESL learners.

The other thing is, what they found with bilingual education in one of the Top End communities where people had a choice—they could learn bilingually or they could be in English class—is that the all-English ones did better on English in the early years, years 3 and 5, but in years 7 and 9 the bilingual ones were ahead. They had caught up and passed the other ones. We have people coming who say they love to teach Yuendumu children because they are turned on, they are switched on and they want to read. That was because they understood everything when they were learning to read. But now it is all-English, mainly, and what they are reading does not have much meaning. For example, with Happy Little Dolphinthere is not much in their lives that they can relate to, whereas they understand the Walpiri books completely. That is what literacy is about. It is about understanding. It is not just about the mechanics of reading. I do not think they are going to get better results in the long run—in the short term, maybe, but not for life and not for having kids who see their learning at school as related to life outside school.

CHAIR: We want to thank you all very much for coming here today and for your detailed submission. A transcript of what is being said today will be on the committee's website and you can make changes to it if there are inaccuracies. Please let us know.

Thank you for making the time to come all this way. We very much appreciate it. Keep working hard. Thank you very much for what you have been saying. We will take on board what you have to say very closely in our recommendations to the government. We will be tabling our report in September or October this year, and the federal government has six months to respond to the recommendations.

Dr STONE: If there is anything that you felt we did not cover today that was not in your original submission, you can send us more information. Thank you.