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UPDATE: check out Greg's post on the new Crikey language blog Fully (sic)

Greg Dickson has done a great service by looking at the figures on attendance rates in NT schools with large numbers of first language speakers of Indigenous languages - you can find his discussion on the Friends of Bilingual Learning website.

One of the few schools with good attendance is Areyonga

2008 - 95%
2009 - 89%
2010 - 93.6%

Pitjantjatjara teachers there, Peggy Gallagher and Daphne Puntjina, and the teacher-linguist, Leonard Freeman, were doing terrific work. But Areyonga school is in the news again: Schools boss seeks solution to bilingual anger. Areyonga people have consistently been pushing to maintain their program of education through the children's first language - and were supported by their principal in 2008. The CEO Of NT Education says there has been confusion about the policy. But surely he must have been misquoted:

"We want people to speak their home language for the first four hours but we want it predominantly done in English."

Hammering the point home about the importance of first language, the Australian Council of TESOL associations has useful links on Indigenous issues and on the place of first language in children's learning. They state:

The Australian and international TESOL fields argue that the maintenance and ongoing development of a student’s first language (L1) provides learners with a solid base from which to acquire an additional language.

Awareness of the positive influences associated with supporting L1 development is particularly important for young learners. Older learners actively draw on knowledge of their first language and its structure, conceptual and content knowledge held in this language and their L1 literacy skills when learning a subsequent language. However younger learners do not yet have this depth of knowledge to draw on and without appropriate support they are at risk of failing to acquire full proficiency in either their first language or the main language of school instruction.

The upshot of Greg's calculations on attendance is that most of the former bilingual schools are not like Areyonga. They seem to have given up - attendance has dropped in many schools. My guess is that this relates to a poisonous sense of powerlessness in communities faced with the introduction of the 'First four hours of English' against their wishes, the loss of community control to the Shires and the relics of the Intervention.

What a mess.


IF ONLY we were dealing with "relics of the Intervention". At a recent meeting our GBM declared "the Intervention is entering its third stage (exit)"

IF ONLY. If they really are intent on exiting,we could get on with the job of salvaging what is left of our social fabric and resurrect self determination and claw back self-respect and the respect remote Aboriginal Australians were held in by others. But no, the "exit" strategy is eerily similar to that of the USA in Iraq, or Israel in Palestine, or the Russians in Chechnya. No great cause for optimism
Sad to say the Intervention and all it stands for is alive and well, just because they now call it "Closing the Gap" doesn't make it any the less insidious and damaging.

That unholy trinity (the three tiers of Government)- the Federal Government (FaHCSIA), the NT Government- the "Growth Town" policy, Territory Housing and anti-bilingual DET- and the Shires) are all part of the same assimilationist xenophobic attack. Our only saving grace is that they are not all that bright nor co-ordinated and efficient.
The resilience of such as the Warlpiri nation is almost beyond belief.

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