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Check out Nicolas Rothwell's article in Saturday's Australian. It's about yes well maybe after all it wasn't such a good idea the way the Intervention demoralised Indigenous people and engendered a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness in the face of Government and its bureaucrats. So, which newspaper has hammered Indigenous people for incompetence and dysfunctionality over the last 4 years? Which newspaper has been applauding itself for triggering the Intervention?

And thinking of other misusable data, the My School Site was launched recently, showing how students across Australia performed on the NAPLAN tests of English literacy and numeracy.

I'm all for numbers, but I do share Bruce Petty's concern about how these are being used. The numbers we've been given are seriously flawed for understanding what's happening in Indigenous schools in the NT.

These are ENGLISH literacy tests administered in ENGLISH. So if the kids start monolingual in a language other than English it's kinda obvious that they're going to do badly in reading and writing English in their first years at school. And they'll continue to do badly if they don't get good ESL teaching and if they get so bored at school that they stop attending.

Lots of the remote NT schools (bilingual and non-bilingual) do really badly. What is unforgiveable is the comparison with so-called "statistically similar" schools. They do not seem to have factored in first language. So, among the schools compared to Yuendumu (majority of children speak Warlpiri as a first language) are schools where most children's first language is English, Aboriginal English or an English-based creole. Here are some (there are probably more but I don't know all the communities).

Borroloola School, Borroloola NT 0854
Camooweal State School, Camooweal QLD 4828
Goodooga Central School, Goodooga NSW 2831
Moree East Public School, Moree NSW 2400
Wilcannia Central School, Wilcannia NSW 2836

Even if you speak an English-based creole rather than standard English, you'll still do better than a child who only speaks a traditional language - just as English-speaking children find it easier to learn French than Chinese. There are so many similar words.

Who could be surprised that these children do better on English tests?

And, the information one really wants isn't there on the site. You can get mission statement blah. So the Feds have said they'll give more information - what parents think about schools.... Brilliant, what blame-avoiding PR person thought that up?

I bet parents would be MORE interested in the following sets of numbers, which the State and Federal Departments could provide MUCH more cheaply than by conducting an expensive survey of parents:

  • How much do the State and Federal governments spend per child in the school?
  • how many students per teacher?(see a nice opinion piece (1/2/2010) in the Sydney Morning Herald)
  • how many first year out teachers are there in the school?
  • what's the teacher churn in the school?
  • in schools with high numbers of children who don't speak English, how many properly trained ESL teachers are there? (and I don't mean ESL training via a day's workshop with a department trainer)
  • how long has the principal been there>

Throw those into the statistical blender and see how that changes the "statistically similar schools" clumping.

Apparently the Federal Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, wants us to use the My School website to 'hold schools and teachers to account'. Give us the numbers ON THAT SITE so we can hold Governments to account.

On the other hand, take the much maligned bilingual education programs. Last year the NT government demoralised communities with bilingual education programs by unilaterally abolishing those programs, against the communities' wishes. All in the name of improving NAPLAN scores.

In Canberra, the Government School Telopea Park has a bilingual French-English program, and has done so for many years. In Sydney, International Grammar School, a private school, "offers a bilingual partial immersion language program for all students from preschool to the end of primary, and a strong high school languages program up to Higher School Certificate. Languages include French, Italian, German, Japanese, Chinese and Spanish."

On the MySchool figures, both schools score above, equal to, or only slightly below "statistically similar schools". So kids going to these schools get both languages, and do by and large as well or better on English literacy and numeracy than kids going to so-called statistically similar monolingual schools.

Therefore, when bilingual education is properly resourced and taught, parents are motivated to take part in their children's education, their kids can do as well or better than in monolingual schools, AND they get the other language developed as well. Therefore bilingual education in and of itself is NOT the reason for the poor performance by students in NT bilingual schools on NAPLAN.

So, State and Federal Governments, give us more numbers. Tell us about teacher churn. Tell us about how experienced the teachers are. Tell us how much is spent per child at different schools. AND make sure you are really comparing like with like - stop claiming that children who don't speak English should do as well as first language English speakers in the early years on tests in English.



Perhaps we could add a few other numbers.

What is the ratio of a state parliamentary backbencher's salary to a five year out teacher?

What is the ratio of staff in the Department of Education to staff in the schools?

What is the ratio of spending on schools to parliamentary pensions?

Compare those over the last ten years.

// Tony

There is a similar situation in Papua New Guinea in that the policy of vernacular language education is made a scapegoat for other systemic problems (see http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2010/01/png-schooling-poor-lacks-achievement-orientation.html and certain of the 3-11 January comments). Of course, using an indigenous language does not miraculously cause well-trained and salaried teachers, rain-proof classrooms, and adequate learning resources to appear - although it can be an important part of all of those things, for example through strengthening school-community relations, or scaffolding a more relevant and interesting curriculum. Where basic infrastructure problems are overcome, local language education in PNG gets good results.

A few references concerning studies and programmes in countries other than Australia that have found mother tongue and/or bilingual education to be linked to better student performance than comparable non-mother tongue monolingual programmes are listed below.

Alidou, H., Boly, A., Brock-Utne, B., Diallo, Y. S., Heugh, K. and Wolff, H. E. 2006. Optimizing Learning and Education in Africa – the Language Factor: A Stock-taking Research on Mother Tongue and Bilingual Education in Sub-Saharan Africa. ADEA 2006 Biennial Meeting, Libreville, Gabon, 27–31 March.

Benson, C. 2004. The Importance of Mother Tongue-based Schooling for Educational Quality. Commissioned study for EFA Global Monitoring Report 2005. Paris, UNESCO.
Casely-Hayford, L., Ghartey, A. B. and SfL Internal Impact Assessment Team. 2007. The Leap to Literacy and Life Change in Northern Ghana: An impact assessment of School for Life (SfL). Tamale, Ghana, School for Life.

Delpit, L.D. and Kemelfield, G. 1985. Department of Education. 1989. National language and literacy policy: Secretarial directive. Waigani, Papua New Guinea.

D'Emilio, A. L. 2009. Indigenous Languages: A View from UNICEF. Exclusive online content in Minority Rights Group International, State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009. www.minorityrights.org/download.php?id=664.

Hartwell, A. 2006. Meeting EFA: Ghana School for Life. Washington, DC, USAID/Academy for Educational Development. (EQUIP2 Working Paper.)

Heugh, K., Bogale, B., Benson, C. and Yohannes, M. A. G. 2006. Final Report: Study on Medium of Instruction in Primary Schools in Ethiopia. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Ministry of Education.

Matang, R. 2008. Enhancing children’s formal learning of early number knowledge through indigenous languages and ethnomathematics: the case of Papua New Guinea mathematics curriculum reform experience. Paper presented at the 11th International Congress on Mathematical Education (ICME-11), 6-13 July 2008.

Mfum-Mensah, O. 2009. An exploratory study of the curriculum development process of a complementary education program for marginalized communities in Northern Ghana. Curriculum Inquiry, Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 343–67.

Paraide, P. 2008. The progress of vernacular and bilingual instruction in formal schooling. Spotlight with NRI 2(4).

SIL International. Class instruction in mother tongue improves test scores. http://www.sil.org/sil/global/goal2/classes-in-mother-tongue.htm

Very useful references - thanks!

Sadly the new My Schools website is a hit with my nice white middle-class friends with pre-school aged kids. Some are disturbed by the under-performance of state schools in their area and are now considering private schools. Others are considering going to directly ask the school Principal why their school performed so badly and what they are going to do about it by the time their kid gets there.

Are the individualism of the privileged.

On the positive side, Brian Devlin from Charles Darwin University has used Myschools data to further show that the introduction of the First Four Hours of English policy by the NT Govt was baseless.

In late 2008, the NT Minister for Education tabled NAPLAN data in Parliament apparently giving 'evidence' for dismantling bilingual education. However with the data available on Myschools, the Minister's 'evidence' was apparently incorrect and false. You can read Brian's short piece here

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