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If you are interested in Indigenous education in Australia or what happens when Governments get worried about minority groups not reading and writing the dominant language, check out Prioritising Literacy and Numeracy: A strategy to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes 2010–2012. Darwin: Northern Territory Government Department of Education and Training. There are some good things in it, but there are some worrying things. Take this paragraph:

"The language and cognitive skills domain includes basic literacy; basic numeracy; interest in literacy, numeracy and memory; and advanced literacy. The percentage of Northern Territory children vulnerable and at risk in the Language and cognitive skills domain at the commencement of full-time schooling is significantly greater than the national average, as indicated below." (p.6)

Now it may be that the NT has lots of children from all backgrounds who are at risk. But I bet this is code for "Indigenous children". Looking further - what is literacy? Literacy=English literacy. How are the cognitive skills tested? Almost certainly in English. This calls into question the reliability of the information on which this claim is made.

A lot of people in the NT are worried about the NT Government's approach to Indigenous education - Australian Society for Indigenous Languages (AuSIL) , Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, NT branch (ATESOL NT) , Uniting Church in Australia, Northern Synod, Darwin Anglican Church of Australia, Diocese of the Northern Territory, Darwin and the Top End Linguistics Circle (TELC). They've got together to sponsor a seminar. So, if you're in Darwin on Thursday 9 September, hop along to Indigenous languages in education Do current policies match our needs?

7:30pm, Thursday, 9 September 2010
Mal Nairn Auditorium,
Charles Darwin University,
Casuarina Campus
Contact: Phil Glasgow, 8931-3133

Speakers: Dr Brian Devlin, JP, FACE, Associate Professor, Bilingual Education & Applied Linguistics, School of Education, Charles Darwin University
“Evidence? Achievement? Performance? Official data from My Schools, Government and NT Parliament on Model 1 (Step) bilingual programs ”

Professor Joseph Lo Bianco, AM, FAHA, FACE, Professor of Language and Literacy , Education Associate Dean (Global Engagement) President, Australian Academy of the Humanities , Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne,
“Rights? Closing the gap? Culture? Data? What can break the deadlock on an Indigenous national language policy for Australia?”


Great post. Questionable reliability and validity. Literacy = English and English = language. NAPLAN on steroids? This is all common of course to many such documents/reports/regimes. What's more insulting and misleading, however, is that they (the Australian Early Development Index (AEDI) and those who quote them without due consideration) label students as being "developmentally vulnerable" when they're tested in English and against eurocentric and standardised norms. The data for the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, for example, used to read (before it was taken off the site):

Language and cognitive skills (school-based) Children "on track" 0.0%; Children "developmentally vulnerable" 84.62%.

Communication skills and general knowledge: on track, 7.7%; developmentally vulnerable, 92.3%

So many developmentally vulnerable? Are you sure? And general knowledge, communication skills? Based on whose norms? No mention of the childrens incumbent and complex language and communication systems and proficiencies. And THEN this data is compared with children from massively diverse linguistic and cultural contexts.

Notwithstanding the wider effects of labelling people so negatively (and unfairly), the term "developmental vulnerability" is used a little too liberally. Looking at the AEDI report
, the data is used in a way that implies that developmental vulnerablity is a function of English speaking ability: "21.6 per cent of children who are proficient in English and speak another language at home are developmentally vulnerable on one or more of the AEDI domain/s, compared to 93.5 per cent of children who speak a language other than English and are not proficient in English." (p.12) This wording risks further misleading those who believe (or have been lead to believe) that multilingualism is an illness. This leads me to think of some of the teachers I've met (not all of them of course) and how the data was collected.

I'm writing on the run here so sorry for any incoherence, but this is another area to think about. I'd be interested to know how much training was required or given to the teachers who gathered the data. Is there anyone out there that can confirm any of this (and hopefully contradict the bad practice stories I've heard)?

Yours, erratically,


I was going for a little walk with my 4-year-old Kriol-speaking adopted son the other day and was impressed with his language skills (but I'm sure their age appropriate). We were cruising along looking at this'n'that chatting away, including buffalo poo. Not only was he a perfectly articulate 4-year-old but he knew the Nunggubuyu word for buffalo too (an endangered language spoken to the north) *and* he had the metalinguistic awareness to explain to me that "muuri" means buffalo.

Of course, these language skills are probably entirely lost on his pre-school teacher.

I also found out the other day that some students at Ngukurr CEC will, by the end of the year, have had a different teacher each term this year. Doesn't bode well for quality, informed, compassionate education delivery.

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