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Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs
Language learning in Indigenous communities
House of Reps
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Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs
CHAIR (Mr Neumann)
Stone, Dr Sharman, MP
Haase, Barry, MP
Grierson, Sharon, MP
Ms R Kunoth-Monks
Ms N Kunoth-Monks
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Content WindowStanding Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs - 03/04/2012 - Language learning in Indigenous communities
CLUB, Mr Sammy, Deputy Chair, Urapuntja Aboriginal Corporation
DOWNS, Mr Richard, Spokesperson, Ampilatwatja community, Utopia Homelands
KASMIRA, Ms Kerry, Principal, Arlparra School
KUNOTH, Ms Rosie, Alyawarra elder, Utopia Homelands
KUNOTH-MONKS, Ms Ngarla, Teacher, Arlparra School
KUNOTH-MONKS, Ms Rosalie, Anmatjere elder, Utopia Homelands
NELSON, Mr Harold, Anterrengeny elder and traditional owner, Utopia Homelands
NGAL, Ms Kathleen, Anmatjere woman, Camel Camp, Utopia Homelands
PETYARR, Mr Banjo Morton, Ampilatwatja elder and traditional owner, Utopia Homelands
PETYARR, Ms Violet, Mosquito Bore community, Utopia Homelands
PURVIS, Ms Angela, Alyawarr Interpreter
PWERL, Mrs Lena, Urapuntja Aboriginal Corporation
TIMEWELL, Mr Michael, Teacher, Arlparra School
SKINNER, Ms Lena, Utopia Homelands
Committee met at 14:49
At this public meeting witnesses sometimes spoke in Alyawarr and Anmatyerr. The Aboriginal Interpreting Service provided a translation of these Indigenous languages which have been incorporated into the text.
CHAIR ( Mr Neumann ): Welcome. I will first handover to Sammy Club for a welcome to country.
Mr Club : Welcome to our country, Arlparra. I am Harold Nelson's grandson. Hello to Motor Bike Paddy. Thank you to the committee for coming here.
CHAIR: Good afternoon. On behalf of the committee, I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay our respect to elders past, present and future. The committee also acknowledge the present Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who reside in this area. The committee are thankful to the communities of Utopia Homelands for receiving us with such a warm and friendly welcome today. Thank you for making your home available for this public meeting today.
Please note that this meeting is a formal proceeding of the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia. Everything you say must be factual and honest, and it can be considered a serious matter to attempt to mislead the committee. I invite you to make comments that will assist our inquiry with the intention of making some improvements to the learning, maintenance and revitalisation of Indigenous languages.
A transcript of what is said today will be placed on the committee's website. If you would like further details about the inquiry transcripts, please ask the committee staff—John and Susan. We will start by asking individuals to speak and then we might ask some questions—they will not be hard questions—and there will be some discussion. We would also welcome anyone in the audience who wishes to make a comment. I understand we have an interpreter here today. Angela, you might like to interpret what I said for the audience.
Ms Purvis: He is saying that we are allowed to talk freely and ask questions. If he is asking any questions, you can speak to him freely.
CHAIR: Susan will take the microphone around the audience. Harold, we might start with you because earlier you were talking a lot of common sense.
Mr Nelson : I was brought up in Utopia. I was born in Utopia. I understand a little bit but I have never been to school all my life. I want to give you a sense of how this business is running.
CHAIR: Can you tell us the importance of your language to you?
Mr Nelson : Yes. I am talking about three tribes, the business up here in this area—Arrernte, Alyawarra and Anmatjere—three languages in my ceremony. My law, I want to point people to what they want to prove, what they want to know. That is an idea by me.
CHAIR: Do you use your language every day? We are talking to each other in English now. Do you use your language every day when you talk to your friends and relatives?
Mr Nelson : Yes. Only we can talk to each other and tell each other our language. That is what I tell them. I follow my mother's north Alyawarr side and with Anmatyerr we speak around here. Like dreaming, jurungu way; business way, that is the tribe I follow up a little bit. I am sorry; I am speaking my language.
CHAIR: Is it important for your children to learn both your language as well as English?
Mr Nelson : That is right. They are speaking to me all the time like that. Once they are learning, they grow up a little bit but they are not speaking the language they use for me; not talking the white man's language.
CHAIR: Do they talk your language in the school as well is at home?
Mr Nelson : I never did. I was not here all the time, but I am living back here. I love my home and I travel around. I do not know about all the children not learning properly. They should come and ask me whether they can learn the language and we can teach them whatever they want.
CHAIR: Banjo is over there. He was doing a bit of talking before, so we might hand over to Banjo. Our practice is to hand over so that people on the committee can ask questions.
Unidentified speaker: We have to pass on our language and culture to non-Indigenous people so we can keep it strong.
Dr STONE: Banjo, I will ask you a question and perhaps I will also ask Harold a question. This is how we run these inquiries. We listen to you and then we ask you questions. Do you ever go into the schools, whether they are outstation schools or this school, and teach the children your traditional languages?
Mr Petyarr : I have not had any schooling, but it is good our kids are going to be taught. That is why I am worrying about it. That is why I am here.
Dr STONE: Is Banjo teaching in the schools?
Mr Downs : No, a lot of our elders are not. I am Banjo's nephew. I grew up all through this country, walking around naked, a long time ago. Banjo just said that they do not go in the schools to teach the language, but the language is normal. Once they get out of the classroom and back into the community, even out here, it is just full on language all the time.
Dr STONE: Is language in country the same? Harold spoke about country. Is language part of the country? Are they as important as each other?
Mr Downs : Definitely. What these old people and the old lady was saying before is that it has been passed down for thousands of years. Language is one of the most important things, because if you lose a language you do not have a culture; you do not exist. So it is part of the connection with Mother Earth, traditions, customs and all of that, so it is vitally important.
Dr STONE: Do the young people respect their language? Do they learn their language and speak it?
Mr Downs : They speak it well—yes. They go hunting with families and so on, which is fantastic. What we like to see in the schools is establishing a more holistic approach, where there is a two-way education happening—in class, reading and writing in English, and outside the class. Let the children teach the teachers in language about fruits, animals and so on, and vice versa, so you get the interest. You are in their environment now. We are not so much in your environment and getting a place.
CHAIR: So it is important for biology and botany—is that what you are saying?
Mr Downs : Definitely—all the plants, animals, insects and tracks of different animals, and all of that. There is no reason why photography cannot come into that and have them approach it within the classroom and ask: 'What did you do today?'
Mr HAASE: Richard, I would be very pleased to have your help in explaining, but maybe Banjo could tell you the answer and maybe Harold could tell you the answer so I can understand it. I am just a poor Aussie mug who only speaks English. so you have the game over me. I want to know whether or not important elders, local here, believe that your language needs to be taught in the schools by the teachers that come to the schools.
Mr Downs: We gotta be strong and talk about this. Is it okay for our children to go and learn our language and culture at school or is it okay as it is now, just learning at home?
Ms R Kunoth-Monks then spoke in language—
Mr Downs : What Rosalie and some of the other people here are saying is that they have got their own teacher trainers within the society out here through Alyawarra and different language groups. It is vital here. The grandmothers and mothers and all those bringing up the little children are teaching them about the wording and the language and different aspects of their cultures. Our concern is that we have got to be up to scratch with English reading and writing. We definitely have to; otherwise, you get left behind.
Mr Petyarr: All our kids are still going to school so they can get a good education. We will teach them in our language and they can follow English from this mob here at the school. But they have to tell us what they are teaching them.
Mr Downs : Banjo was just reinforcing the importance of education happening in school but also the importance of the language within the community itself. It is happening day and night anyway, so it is natural. So once the kids come into the school then a lot of it is English. We want to see the proper English anyway, not so much the teachers.
Mr HAASE: I am going to push this point, Richard. Gentleman, can you tell Richard what you want me to know. I need to be sure that you are saying that the language can be taught at home but you think that the Western stuff that is being taught in the schools should be taught in English and the local mother tongue, your language, should be accepted and embraced by the schoolteachers but not taught to the children by those same schoolteachers. Is that what you are telling us should be the case or have I got it wrong?
CHAIR: I think you have got it wrong there, Barry.
Mr HAASE: We need to understand.
Ms GRIERSON: Or are you saying that the women are helping the teachers to teach English but they are helping through using their language and the women are being paid at the school?
Ms R Kunoth-Monks : I am an Anmatjere born elder of Utopia region. What we are saying is that we do not want traditional authority or responsibility usurped to the extent that our children are only being taken to school. The other thing of course is that once they are taken to school there appears to be a gulf rather than the seamless growing of our children, proud of who they are—the Alyawarra and the Anmatjere. We should never undermine another person's culture. Utopia is lucky, and so is Amperlatwaja and so is Alpurrurulam, to have the local languages as first language.
We are indeed lucky at this stage in the history of Aboriginal people. We do not take the authority from the grandmothers. They teach us all that we need to know from infancy to teenage years and through until we are married, and then we become teachers. But we do not underestimate the importance of the new language and the new learning which we are accessing from places such as the Arlparra school. This place is wonderful and we are grateful for that, but the high school and the teachers must never make us feel that we are second-class people. Our main language, day in day out, at this stage in our history is the local language. As we close the gap, and we talk a lot about closing the gap, we respect both languages. When we go into ceremony, we are not singing in ceremony; we are talking in our language. That is what is important. With that comes pride and self-esteem.
Dr STONE: When your little children first go to school, whether it is at one of the home stations or here in Utopia, do they have English as well as their traditional languages?
Ms R Kunoth-Monks : When they go to school, the children know that it is that little house on the prairie, that English-speaking one; that they are going to that school to learn English, not paying attention. They already have their own language. They know that they are there to access that other language—the language in which I am addressing you, the English language. The desire is there to encompass that into their learning. They are most comfortable in their own language. At weekends, they do not speak English.
Dr STONE: These young children are coming to school with their home languages which is fantastic. Do you think they could learn all they need to learn if they could have their teaching in both their traditional language and in English for a while? Of course that would mean that more local women and men would become teachers or teachers aides who have traditional language and that they would be treated with respect and not as second-class citizens. Do you see that as part of this business?
Ms R Kunoth-Monks : I see it as part of the journey of our little ones. They should be able to first of all comprehend in their own language what it is. When I went to school at the age of 10, I did not know what school was. That was years ago, when you and I were little. When my mum and my dad put me into school, I did not know one word of English. I went to school without knowing what to expect—blindfolded—but slowly we learned. The security for me was the fact that this mob was there. When I came home for the May holidays, I could once again relax in my language and be me. This is what the little ones are doing, only they do not have to be removed to Alice Springs. We have school here now and our children can learn here on mother's country and on father's country. I count ourselves blessed indeed that we are able to do this.
Mr Nelson : There is the question about people learning from our own people. What is the idea? They are learning at white man's school and they are learning better. They might think about it when they get home, but they might get another idea from learning at home, from mothers and fathers. That is what I want to ask your mob.
Ms GRIERSON: Harold, it is important that the young people get their education from their home, from their parents—their mother, their father, their grandparents. It enriches their experience so that when they come to school they should not cut that off. I think some of the women here come and help in this school to make sure that both are done together. That is what we are thinking, but we do not know how hard it is for the kids or how easy it is for the kids to have two languages going all the time. Is it hard or is it easy?
CHAIR: Harold, for your information, Sharon, before she became a politician, was a school principal, so she has been at lots of schools.
Ms GRIERSON: I think I have met Richard before, at Yuendumu. Would that be right, about four or five years ago?
Mr Downs : No.
Ms GRIERSON: I think I might have.
Dr STONE: I will add to that. We are trying to find out the best way to make sure that we do not lose your languages, like in Victoria and in Tasmania, where a lot of the traditional owners, the Indigenous people, have lost most of their language. We are trying to find out what the best way is to grab your languages and make sure they are never lost and, at the same time, have everyone good at English, because that is important in Australia. How do we do that? What is the best way? Is it by only teaching English in schools, teaching a mix of your languages and English, or having teachers trained up to speak your languages as well so that the little children can be understood and teachers do not have to think, 'What does that mean in English'? That is what we are trying to find out from you: what is the best way to keep traditional languages alive and well and the best way to have English also learned in school so the kids grow up with the richness of both?
CHAIR: And opportunities in life for education as well as employment.
Mr Nelson : We never had that. People would come in. We never had a rule like that. You have the idea: us teaching and white men teaching. Some of us mob would get chopped. How are they going to learn, in my own tribe, language in school? People are teaching at camp. What is the idea? I do not think people are interested in that. Do you understand what I say?
CHAIR: We understand.
Mr Nelson : Our people go back home and their mothers and fathers have to teach them at home. It is too hard for us mob to teach them.
Dr STONE: To have the teachers learn your language?
Mr Nelson : It does not make any difference—white man's language is the same sort of idea, but how are we going to learn them? That is what I am asking your mob.
CHAIR: How will we do it? We need teachers. We need to help you and provide assistance for you to learn and have teachers who can speak your language in your schools or assist with teachers' aides and other types of assistance. Too many people cannot speak their own Indigenous languages. In my area there are very, very few Indigenous people in the tribes there who can speak their Indigenous language—or only a few words. That is why we are here today, to see how we can assist and to get evidence from you, get your story, so that the government can help in any way we can.
Ms GRIERSON: Harold, should the government train more Aboriginal women to be teachers or Aboriginal people to be teachers in schools?
Mr Nelson : They only come for a little time. They should understand their own thing; learn their education that way. You know why? If people are teaching at camp or at home, I might teach my children to do this and this. I will tell my daughter or my son. If they cannot understand, they cannot learn properly. I am not a school teacher, but I know how we gonna teach them.
My sister and I were never educated. Throughout our homeland in the Northern Territory people come to teach, like you mob. We can read and we can speak language like the white man's language and be school educated. We can learn and understand and listen to what you are telling me. Do you get that?
CHAIR: Yes, we get that.
Mr Nelson : That is why it is too hard for me. And if I teach my children in our camp, I got nothing. That's very important for white fellas, so you fellas gotta understand. We are Aboriginal people who have been living that way. That's right what I am saying?
Mrs Pwerl : You have not taught your young fellas the jurungu—dreaming. They are questioning you mob. The Anmatyerr have plenty law. We've got women's law. Men teach the young fellas nothing. I need women's culture, that's all. I was taught Anmatyerr and I taught that to other women. At high school here they teach the young fellas nothing. They do not teach culture. White people looking for black people to dance proper; they never learned dancing. I am Anmatyerr, old people; only women's culture. That's ours. Don't question me. You look out for me. Don't question me, you mob. You mob come here and sit down. All the young fellas are going to school and they learn from this high school here. We never send them anywhere else. We never taught any of those young people anything. They never teach them culture. You mob know nothing.
Ms GRIERSON: We need an interpreter, thank you.
Ms Purvis : She is saying the same thing as Harold was saying, in eastern Anmatyerr. She is explaining about high school as well and about the kids never going to school. She never went to school. That is what she is saying.
Mrs Pwerl: I was brought up by my mother, and taught language and culture and songs and dance by her. It's important for everyone to look after language and culture, and pass it on to young people—both father's and mother's language.
Ms Kunoth: My mother taught me language and culture. She taught me before. She told me about bush tucker and food a long time ago. She told me what she was taught by her mother. That is why I am taking on the responsibility for passing on the stories my mother taught me a long time ago. That is why I am taking it on—bush tucker and food. I've taken it on since I was a little kid. My mother and father used to tell me and teach me. They told me to look after country. That is why I am looking after father's country in a good way. I danced at my country; women's dancing for everybody. I showed it to all the men and women. That is why I am keeping/holding my country. Everybody has to look after it—the Aboriginal land. Everybody was dancing too. That is why they are holding country because of language and culture. My mother taught me to look after country. We got this land before anyone else for everyone to look after—the ones whose dreaming it is. I was taught women's dancing. My mob, the old women, taught me dancing. I am teaching my daughters and my sister's daughter. We gotta teach our daughters how to dance and how to body paint, so they can take it on; the really old women do.
Ms Purvis : Rosie is saying that when she was a young lady she never went to school. She learnt through her parents. She grew up here and had children and got married. Also, she has stayed here for a long time. Her mother taught her about country, bush medicine and bush tucker, and the only way she can pass on that message to her daughters and grandchildren is through her language.
CHAIR: Do any other men want to talk?
Mr HAASE: Let Richard tell the story that they have agreed.
Mr Downs : We can go back 60, 65, 70 years. Like we said earlier, then a lot of our people were still hunting with spears and boomerangs. It was still a partial Stone Age existence—a nomadic lifestyle and so on. But just in one life span, we all expect somehow for a group of our people to turn over a new leaf and have the academic skills and the education to compete with non-Aboriginal people and their customs and systems. It is hard. But to close the gap, and just talking with our families, with Banjo, my uncle, and with these old fellas, we have to look at starting early—getting the women's centres engaged, getting a preschool happening and getting young teachers aides involved. The interaction with mothers is giving them exposure and there is the expectation that this is what the children are going to be doing over the next 10 to 15 years: learning this other stuff, and the vital importance of the culture and language, and learning about the country. There should also be interaction with the teachers. There is no reason one or two could not come out of the classroom and spend a week in the preschool or in the women's centre programs, so there is a learning process and there is confidence building with the old ladies and some of the young men to learn English and that sort of thing. That is the way to go.
The biggest obstacle we have come across is when non-Aboriginal people come in and want to take control. Automatically our people drift away because they are too nice and too gentle to say, 'That's not your role, I'm sorry.' If we are going to look at education and language at school, there is no reason that all the education 50 years down the track cannot be in language. But we need a building process right from the beginning. That's how it was, old lady, Mrs Pwerl.
CHAIR: Would any of the students like to talk and tell us about their experience?
Dr STONE: There are the senior students over there.
CHAIR: They are shy.
Dr STONE: At home you speak in your traditional language and then you come to school and speak in English. Would you like to be learning in both languages at school? Or do you prefer English at school and community language at home? What do you think about it?
CHAIR: It is okay if you do not feel like saying now. You could send us something. Would anyone else like to talk?
Ms N Kunoth-Monks : I am Rosalie's daughter and a resident of Utopia. I am aware of how language has been lost in the southern states and that is something that I am scared of happening here. We are looking at setting up early childhood education in language. That way kids will grow and as they get older they will start to engage in English. I would like to see the assistant teachers become teachers but also be able to teach in language, write in language and do everything in language. That is something that I would like to see. I know that Batchelor does teach in language.
Ms GRIERSON: There is no preschool here?
Ms N Kunoth-Monks : No early childhood yet, but we are looking at it.
Ms Petyarr : I talk about some children. I talk about grandchildren. That's all. I know the country. I know the law. Us little girls danced. We danced it as little girls. The grandmothers taught me and I follow that. Grandmothers taught me when I was a little girl. I know the law.
Ms Purvis : Violet is talking about how she grew up, how she never went to school and she tried to follow up on her parents' example.
Ms GRIERSON: Is Violet an artist, a painter?
Ms Purvis : Yes, she is an artist.
Ms GRIERSON: Does she teach the kids here or does she do that at home?
Ms Purvis : Yes, she sometimes teaches the kids painting.
CHAIR: We will have a break for about 15 minutes.
Proceedings suspended from 15:39 to 15:56
CHAIR: We will get started again. Thank you very much, people of Utopia, for putting on that cup of tea and coffee and the spread and the food. Thank you very much for your hospitality. It is important that we hear from all parts of community, from mums and dads, grandmas and granddads, children and teachers and teachers' aides. Rosalie, I will hand over to you for a moment.
Ms R Kunoth-Monks : It is also very important that Kerry Kasmira speaks too. Kerry is our principal and I think that she should be given an opportunity to give her viewpoint as the principal of Arlparra.
CHAIR: That is great. Thank you very much for the invitation from the whole community. Kerry, would you like to make a brief introductory statement?
Ms Kasmira : My first statement is that it is a huge privilege to work in a community such as this where the culture and the language are so strong. Probably the first message that I got as I arrived as principal six years ago—and I am absolutely paraphrasing—was basically, 'We have a really strong language and culture and we have that under control. Can you concentrate on the whitefella stuff?' I have had 20 years experience in various remote communities and certainly the nature of homelands in particular has always lent itself to students who are really comfortable in their own skin and really know where their place is in their community. The challenges, as a non-Aboriginal person coming in, is to not make assumptions, and that is done by coming in and listening much and talking little. It is a real challenge when you are in a position like mine where you are being asked to put into place government policies and directives and curriculum.
The culture of the school here, which I can talk about, is one where there is an expectation that all staff are mentors. It does not matter whether you are an admin officer, a physical hand or a teacher or in fact an assistant teacher, we are all mentors to a broader community. As a result of that, I think that we have got a relationship of respect between our teaching teams where everybody is learning and we where are learning from each other. I have been very lucky. There are many faces here whom I have gone to for support in the past, because I have either needed information to help me deal with knowledge, with curriculum, with meetings, with behaviour and things like that. This is one of the things about this community. If I talk about a child and ask someone who I can talk to, this community is really clear about who that person is that I need to talk to, and that has made my job very easy. A challenge has been to find people with English literacy to work in the schools and support us. We have needed to balance very carefully the absolute benefits of having English-speaking assistant teachers who have very strong language and are able to contribute both ways. Without exception, our assistant teachers have far more professional diversity than any of the white teachers here, in terms of being able to address the needs of the students.
Some of the things we have in place at the school include an expectation that all staff, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, are involved in some form of study and that we help each other through that study. We have 10 assistant teachers. All of them are enrolled in certificates in education support or community services. We work very closely with bachelors, particularly trying to get own language qualifications happening. The idea behind that is to try and grow our own and end up with staff who are really comfortable with the skill set needed from either side of what is sadly, as Rosalie said, a gap instead of a seamless connection.
We have had some success with starting to demonstrate the possibilities, in terms of education from a Western perspective, in that we have a young man who has moved into an assistant teacher position from year 12 last year and we have a young woman who is moving into a traineeship in an admin position at the school. We are starting to demonstrate to the broader community—I do not want to call them 'advantages' because it sounds so elitist—some of the opportunities that open up if you have strengths on both sides.
We absolutely allow many of our students to discuss in their own language. All our classrooms are multilevelled—they are either years T to 5 or years 6 to 9—and that is to allow a level of mentoring, peer and family support within a classroom. With that there is a growing pedagogy within the student body regarding how to help each other and support each other as their awareness of both sides happens.
The sad thing is that I wish I could wave a magic wand and have a bunch of people here who are available at a nanosecond to come and teach whatever they thought is appropriate, because I feel that my experience would be much richer if that were possible. I feel that the students who come to this school go home after being coached with remarkable skill. From a non-Aboriginal teacher's point of view, there is a lot of press and data about how poorly we are doing in Aboriginal education. The only way that we can deal with that as non-Aboriginal staff is to stay really focused on what our job is and also what our job is not. In conclusion, this is a school in the bush and it provides the best opportunity that we can provide. The bush school that is outside these gates is one of the best in the world and it already has the most remarkable teachers. The recognition through that gate is really strong.
CHAIR: Can you talk to us about the cultural appropriateness of, say, NAPLAN testing?
Ms Kasmira : NAPLAN is a government initiative that was put in to standardise students' understanding and literacy. It would be really interesting if some of the questions were about bush lore, relationships and things like that that perhaps mainstream children are not aware of. It is a real challenge, but we hold our heads up and it is not the only measure of these children's success.
Ms GRIERSON: I had the pleasure of meeting the young man who is a teacher's aide and the young girl who is now going into year 11 on a traineeship. What is the state of their language? What languages do they use? How proficient are they in their language?
Ms Kasmira : Their home language is absolutely their natural, 100 per cent dominant language.
Ms GRIERSON: They have been able to achieve their success through their own language?
Ms Kasmira : Yes. If I understood you correctly, with that strength they have applied themselves to their studies. They are delightful young adults who build relationships really well and have received a lot of support from a history of teaching staff, and they have excellent attendance.
I make no judgments about the pressures that families find themselves under to move, be mobile and be absent, but it is fairly apparent at an academic level the correlation between regular attendance and a student's willingness to communicate in English with teachers they have developed a relationship with. But, again, it is not the only measure of the education they are receiving.
Dr STONE: Can you talk to us about teaching English as a second language? We have taken a lot of evidence in other places about the fact that a lot of teachers come out of teachers college only speaking English and then they go to a remote community.
Ms Kasmira : There is strong departmental support for ESL training. I think, at this point in time, you will find probably three out of my nine staff are involved in some sort of post-graduate studies that involve ESL and understanding the needs of the second language learners. My senior teacher from last year is actually taking a year off to do his master's in TESL. Certainly many of the people who leave this sort of environment go away with an understanding of their own lack of knowledge and seek to improve that.
Dr STONE: Was this a bilingual school under the previous Northern Territory policy where some schools were officially called bilingual and others not?
Ms Kasmira : This has never held the status of a bilingual school.
Mr HAASE: I would like to learn a little more about how you rate the future for such schools—and more of that later. What is the level of English comprehension in the homeland schools—there are three, I believe? When children first start in those schools, I imagine that the understanding of English would be fairly low. How on earth do they make progress when the teachers there I imagine are English speaking?
Ms Kasmira : One of the things that is demonstrated to me every day that I work in this environment is that you never generalise. There are some students who come to school with quite high social levels of English and are able to converse quite comfortably. There are some whose receptive English is certainly higher than their expressive and their confidence to express their limited English grows as they build a relationship with a teacher. In my principalship here, I have made a conscious effort to employ from a diversity of families. So we have Piks, Turners, Loys, Raggatts, Kunoths, Joneses and Harrisons to provide them with support from a cross-section of the different student groups' families. Every small homeland has two assistant teachers who are absolutely native speakers. Their home language is their dominant language. Again, they all share a really professional competency in English. What they sometimes do lack is perhaps their own school experience. We mentor them and support them through as much as we can. We have also established a culture that I am personally incredibly privileged to work in where all assistant teachers feel supported in taking on further studies to build on their own expectations. If I can quote one of my assistant teachers today, one of the activities was to read a story to a group of kids. As a part of our activity day to day, her responsibility was to read a picture book in English to groups of children and then they went off and did an activity associated with that. She read that in English. She is a very competent woman and I am in awe of here. She came to me and said, 'I was really proud to be treated like a teacher.' We get that and it is certainly something that makes it worth while.
I am looking at working with the Indigenous language and culture support program through DET to get own language workshops happening here. The educational support certificate with Batchelor has an elective based on own language and I am negotiating at the moment that that is held locally so that it is absolutely about the local context and the local language. The policy at the school—official, unofficial—is 'grow our own'. My personal vision of this school, for what it is worth, is that now that these students have the advantage of a high school and are not trying to do their high school in a one-teacher school from transition to year 11 in one classroom you can see a real difference between the students coming through from years 8, 9 and 10 who have had a dedicated high school experience as opposed to some of the older ones who have been in a large primary type classroom.
Mr HAASE: Let us move on, if we can. I would like to know—abbreviated answers if you can, so long as you are clear—is where a student goes through the system: homelands, primary, through to here for senior, at the varying ages of return to senior—I understand that. On leaving this senior school, how would you make—I know you do not want to make comparisons and generalisations but give me a sense of the capacity of those students by comparison with a graduate from mainstream in Alice Springs, for instance. Would that student be interested in going on and taking up specialised training in a job in Alice Springs? Is that something that happens?
Ms Kasmira : We have some students who I have no doubt, with continued attention to their studies, could walk into any traineeship or apprenticeship that provided adequate mentoring in the form of making sure more than the language, more just understanding the whole nature of working in an urban environment.
Mr HAASE: Given that that is a potential and you can see that potential, what are the hurdles in the system you are familiar with here, over six years? What are the hurdles that exist, that if removed would make that a greater likelihood?
Ms Kasmira : My feeling is that many of my students are terrified that, if they qualify and educate themselves to a high standard, the expectation is that they will leave their country to get a job.
Mr HAASE: And who disapproves of that in their mind?
Ms Kasmira : They disapprove. This is where they want to be.
Mr HAASE: And there is a scary world out there which is not their country?
Ms Kasmira : This is their country. Their perceptions of the outside I do not know, but this is their country.
Mr HAASE: I am not sure whether you appreciate that our foundation question here is: how do we improve the skill set, the knowledge, the education of kids and what do we have to do—understanding that attendance at school, as you mentioned, was one of the prime factors—to increase that attendance at school and prioritise education?
Ms Kasmira : We have to give it a purpose. The more we build up the infrastructure in the local area and provide opportunities for employment in the local area, the more motivation people will have to train into those positions, which will reduce their need for mobility.
Ms GRIERSON: Kerry, I talked to some of the elders about the need for good health care here. Do the children have otitis media, or is health care strong enough that they do not have hearing loss?
Ms Kasmira : The health clinic here does a fantastic job and works quite closely and is highly mobile, as people know. There is otitis media. We are dealing with it all the time. The health of the children—and, again, I cannot generalise—is certainly not what I would wish for my own child. We put a lot of things into the classroom like sound surround systems and things like that to try to address those.
CHAIR: Thanks very much for that, Kerry. We will open this up for about 15 to 20 minutes and if anyone would like to make a contribution, to say anything for a minute or so, please let us know. We are happy for you to have a say about anything we have been talking about today—about language, competency in English, Indigenous language, local language.
Ms GRIERSON: Have you any message for the government?
Mr Nelson : I get shocked by this funny idea you guys have brought up. I do not know. We cannot understand what this means. Is it from overseas or everywhere? Is this funny idea for our school here or all over the Northern Territory? What do you fellas mean? Rosie, you should know. What are you looking for?
CHAIR: We have been talking a lot this afternoon. Tell us how you think the government can help.
Ms GRIERSON: Yes. What we came to ask you and find out was: how do we make sure that your languages stay strong but your children also learn English so they can do whatever they like but they keep their traditional languages centre and strong. You are here in this part of Australia doing very well. You have got your strong languages. But in a lot of places not very far from here the children are not learning their community languages. So we are just trying to find out how you do it. How has it been successful for you and how can we make sure that other communities can learn from what you do?
CHAIR: And how can government help you?
Mr Nelson : In my opinion I am looking back for any good reason. I'd like to see you guys doing things all over Australia not just in the Northern Territory. You've given me a shock today with this funny idea. I'm not understanding—you know me. I have never been to school all my life, but I know and have my ideas. How are you mob going to push this and do this? I ask people all the time to do this and to do that and teach the children. It is funny for me. We get our own land and our own businesses and own ceremonies, the same as white people—like white people drilling their own opinion. They are looking after their own home or building, or you have the children there. That is a funny idea to me.
Mr Downs : Earlier on, just before the break, we were confirming what Lena and the ladies were saying. Language is important. Like Kerry said, it is 100 per cent spoken out here and through the Amperlatwatja and Alyawarr country, and English is very important. It is about survival in the Western system. It is changing and we are losing parts of our languages right around Australia here and now.
Yes, old fellas, we gotta keep going, keep holding culture forever. This mob are asking you if it's okay this way. Is this government message okay, to keep talking and talking, going on forever? This mob are asking again to keep going. That is what they are saying. They are asking you to keep going on and on, to teach Aboriginal culture.
There is a lot of potential. This is a beautiful school, but there are barriers for us, especially in the last five years. I think this is the first time that you guys have consulted, engaged and listened, and we have shared our stories together. We never had that in the last five years under the NTER measures. They still never have. We have withdrawn away from getting involved with the governments and any part of the programs that they are pushing, because they really have not consulted or engaged or made us feel equal as human beings.
[Indigenous language not transcribed].This is the first time. This is consultation and engagement about asking our people. What do you mob think about our language and culture, like this English way? It's here. This is about building the bridge. This is the way forward, slowly. We have to get rid of the burden. We have to have the freedom. We have to feel free to keep going.
What time do they knock off from school? Three o'clock? Two o'clock? And then they go on to universities until 20 or 25. We can still learn if we want to. That is what these guys have to understand: the family support is strong; it is 100 per cent. We have to make sure, because some of our work has fallen down in the past with funding barriers. If there was guaranteed funding over the next five or 10 years, with goals, targets and KPI measures in place, then we could lift ourselves up to it and not go down, like kindergarten stuff. And the family through your age-care government centres and preschools can work with us, having a look at the charts and graphs at where we are at.
We need to lift; that is what we need to do there. Let's talk, old ladies and women. Let's talk to the men like that, with that shared learning, that shared experience and that shared journey our mother Rosalie brought up earlier on.
Mr Timewell : Kerry referred to me before. I have been teaching here for the last two years. I have taken this year off to continue my studies and do my masters in TESOL. I get frustrated by the pessimism behind the talk about closing the gap, because I have worked with the students sitting over here who have listened to this meeting for the last couple of hours and they know what we are talking about. When I teach these students I do not see them as having a gap when compared with the students I have taught in Victoria. These students have a gap in their ability to read and write English, but I have not taught that many students in Victoria who are bilingual and who could learn about science and art in a language that they do not speak and that they never grew up speaking. I have not taught that many students in Melbourne who could make their own meal if their parents had to attend to some other kind of business. They could barely boil an egg. I have not taught that many students who have a great familiarity with their neighbours and with their families and who could tell me who is sick in their community. The students I teach in Melbourne know their friends on Facebook; they do not know their neighbours.
There is a gap here in the ability of these guys to read and write in English. They have got amazing skills. They far surpass students in other parts of Australia, in the world where I have taught, and we do not acknowledge that when we talk about closing the gap. I would love to bring some of the students from Victoria up a little bit further. I would love to close the gap between their achievements and the achievement of these guys. I do not think we recognise that.
You asked earlier about the big scary world out there and what the hurdles are to going out there and achieving. It is the same thing. I have got five brothers in Melbourne. They all live within 20 minutes of my mum. The hurdle is that that is where their home is. For these guys, the hurdle is that this is where their home is and this is what they know. Why do we want to upskill them and close the gap to then send them away from where they know, where they are familiar, to somewhere else? They want to get strong culture and language so they can stay here and make this a strong place. That is my experience and that is my understanding of it.
Ms Skinner: This is my country, my father's dreaming. I wanted to speak proper way. This other woman spoke too quick before I had a turn. I should have spoken first. This is my country.
Ms Purvis : She was saying that she belongs to this country and she was born here—same story again.
CHAIR: We will ask Rosalie to now close off.
Ms R Kunoth-Monks : These people have to go very soon because they have to look at part of our country and then get on the plane. First of all, I would like to thank Amnesty, Rodney Dillon, Sarah and Louisa, for being here. We have a partnership with these people and they have worked extremely hard to get us down to Canberra and for these people on the committee to come here. Today, we talked just on the surface about our language, about our ceremonies and about our Aboriginality. I hope that this is falling on receptive ears and I thank these people for coming all this way. It is not everyday we get a collection of politicians to sit and listen to us. I hope that we have been explicit in this dialogue, which we should have more of, not only here; it can be in the city as well. The future of Aboriginal people, their Aboriginality and their identity depend a lot on whether they are made to feel a part of this great nation of ours or they are made to feel second class and useless. I would like to thank Kerry Kasmira for her speech and I believe that is the way have to look at it. Together we can achieve; divided and making people feel second class, we will not get there. Thank you all for being here.
CHAIR: On behalf of the committee, I thank the people of Utopia for their hospitality—the elders, men and women; the students; the teachers; and the whole community—for welcoming us and for inviting us to your home. Thank you for your words today and your advice, warnings, admonitions and urgency about what we need to do. You can guarantee that the things that have been said today will help us in the formation of our ideas so that we can advise the government on the ways to help you and to help all Australia to preserve Indigenous languages across the length and breadth of our country. Thank you very much. The committee will take into consideration everything that has been discussed today. Our report will eventually be made available for you to look at. The committee will now visit the health clinic, but before we do that we will look at some artwork and science displays done by the students here.
I thank everyone for their attendance today. I also thank Hansard and Broadcasting, Debra and James, for their work.
Resolved (on motion by Dr Stone):
That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.
Committee adjourned 16:34