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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 198

Senator Siewert asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice, on 21 November 2008:

(1)   On what evidence does the Minister base their support for the decision by the Northern Territory Government to cut Indigenous bilingual education.

(2)   Is the Minister aware that the report, Indigenous languages and culture in Northern Territory Schools: Report 2004-2005, compared the national testing reading results of Northern Territory bilingual and non-bilingual remote schools and found that the bilingual school students in both year 5 and year 7 outperformed the English only students.

(3)   Is the Minister aware that the report in (2) above was referred to in the report, Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle “Little Children are Sacred” (dated 2007), and it was the basis of its recommendation that Indigenous language programs are best practise for remote schools and should be supported.

(4)   With reference to the article in the Northern Territory News of 17 November 2008, ‘Feds “force” NT to cut local languages’, in which the Northern Territory Minister for Employment, Education and Training, Ms Marion Scrymgour, claims that the Northern Territory Government was forced to cut teaching hours in Indigenous languages because of the national curriculum currently being developed: will the national curriculum impact on the ability of schools in the Northern Territory to teach Indigenous languages.

(5)   Given that the article in (4) above, Minister Scrymgour states ‘As part of that national curriculum there is no room for language and culture’: will the implementation of the national curriculum impact on the ability of schools anywhere in Australia to teach Indigenous language and culture.

Senator Carr (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The Minister for Education has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1)   Australian governments have committed to a set of targets to decrease Indigenous disadvantage. The Closing the Gap targets include two targets directly relating to educational outcomes at school:

  • To halve the gap in literacy and numeracy achievement between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and other students within a decade; and
  • To at least halve the gap in attainment at Year 12 schooling (or equivalent level) by 2020.

   Across Australia the performance of Indigenous students, particularly those in remote and very remote areas, against the National Benchmark results in reading, writing and numeracy has been well below that of other students. The gap in attainment of the benchmarks between Indigenous students in very remote areas of the Northern Territory and other students, both Indigenous and all, through the rest of the Northern Territory is also very wide. In 2007 the percentage of Indigenous students in very remote areas in the Northern Territory achieving the reading, writing and numeracy benchmarks ranged between five percent for Year 7 writing to 40.2 percent for Year 3 numeracy. In comparison the results for all students in very remote areas in the Northern Territory ranged between 27.3 percent for Year 5 writing and 52.4 percent in Year 3 numeracy.

   One method of addressing this gap, as part of a coordinated approach to accelerating improvements in literacy and numeracy, is to improve the English language skills of Indigenous students from an early age.

   The Government firmly believes that all Australian students need to be proficient in English to be able to fully participate in the world of work and further study. The Australian Government is committed to supporting languages education in Australian schools including indigenous languages.

   (2)   The report Indigenous Languages and Culture in Northern Territory Schools Report 2005-2005, published by the Northern Territory Department of Employment, Education and Training, did not undertake a full evaluation of bilingual education. While the report states that preliminary and provisional data confirms that students participating in bilingual programs have marginally better results than students in similar non-bilingual schools it also notes that the numbers are not statistically valid and the impact of greater resourcing and teaching staff in the bilingual schools is not taken into account.

   (3)   The Australian Government will continue to support Indigenous language programs in schools in recognition of the importance of obtaining equitable educational outcomes by Indigenous people through the maintenance and continued use of Indigenous languages. Through the MCEETYA Indigenous Reference Group, Ministers have agreed to develop and fully implement by 2012, educational programs for Indigenous children that respect and value Indigenous cultures, languages, and contexts and explicitly teach standard Australian English.

   (4)   The Government is committed to the development of a rigorous and world-class national curriculum from kindergarten to year 12.

   The national curriculum will provide a clear and explicit agreement about the curriculum essentials that all young Australians should have access to regardless of their socio-economic background or the location of their school. There will be flexibility for education authorities to continue to deliver alternative education programs that respond to local and regional circumstances whilst also delivering the national curriculum.

   (5)   See response to question 4 above.