First languages in Queensland schools
Keynote presentation to Queensland Indigenous Education Conference, Brisbane, June 2017.
Presented by Melinda Holden
First Languages Australia (FLA) is the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander languages in Australia. FLA’s primary purpose is to provide a network for communication for language centres and communities working to keep their languages strong, though for most is about building strength.
A major focus of our work is the learning and teaching of languages. This covers a wide range of separate areas.
- Learning language in communities by adults and children
- learning language in schools and higher education
- Determining the protocols for teaching — who can teach and where — On country or not?
- The training of language teachers and negotiating for fair pay and conditions for teachers with various levels of skills and qualifications
- Reviewing the development of resources and letting our members know about the ever-changing tools and technologies they may want to incorporate in their work.
First languages Australia place enormous effort into building strong communication between the language communities and the work we do. This is done through newsletters, meetings and social media. We communicate to government about the needs and issues faced by our network members and we tap into the promotional arms of our partners such as Reconciliation Australia and AIME to spread our news.
A strategic goal of First Languages Australia is raising awareness of languages to the Australian public.
FLA has developed a marketing and promotion strategy for languages that brings awareness to all Australians. We have been supported in this by a solid partnership with the ABC who have made it clear that they have a commitment to support us in any way they can to promote the importance and significance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.
Our marketing and promotion projects have included:
The Mother Tongue project with ABC Open involved the creation and display of over 120 videos from language speakers, language groups and communities. It was the source of enormous pride for our people who got to tell a story to the ABC and to have those videos for their own use.
With ABC regional radio we have begun to record ABC station IDs in their local languages around the country. Already there have been over 100 of the station IDs recorded.
With ABC splash — which is an education platform –we are running for the second year a national song competition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages based on the Marrin Gamu video that you’ve just seen. I will tell you more about that later.
We also work with Triple J radio who are keen to promote languages, with Radio National “Word Up” on ABC Awaye.
In addition to all I’ve mentioned we also work with the ABC education programs including ABC Me and ABC Kids.
Other important areas of our work are:
Advocating for languages with Commonwealth and state governments:
Unlocking languages in state and territory library collections through the national Indigenous Languages Collection Strategy. These institutions are now working to help communities access their language materials in the collections.
The Priority Languages Support Project to identify and provide funding for critically endangered languages where no revival activity is currently being undertaken.
National place names
This year we will commence a project to appropriately involve language communities in dual naming and renaming processes in their regions. The recognition and use of traditional place names is critical in the revival of language and culture across the Aboriginal and Torres Strait island communities.
Mentoring our young champions
Both through attendance at language conferences and in offers of internships with language centres, First Languages Australia is supporting our young people to be involved and to train as the future language leaders for their people.
Beyond First Languages Australia as the peak body there are also state and territory bodies established. In Queensland this is the Queensland Indigenous Languages Advisory Committee which has been consulting with the Queensland Govt since 2005.
Sel Button Assistant Director General Indigenous Education has been a part of this journey, including attending the first meeting of the Queensland committee in June 2005.
Unfortunately with the changing tides of government commitment, the Queensland committee is not currently funded, however this unfortunate decision doesn’t stop the work from continuing.
Why are languages important?
Language — culture- people and land are intrinsically linked together and to truly understand the history and ethos of people you must have an understanding of all of these elements.
The Aboriginal languages of Australia are among the oldest continuously spoken languages on Earth, and it’s wonderful to contemplate the information that is held within them.
Embedded in the local language of an area is the knowledge of what the significant places are, the reasons for the place names that captures your glance as you pass by town signs or read your google maps. You have knowledge of the plants and the seasons, the traditions, the songs and the stories that have been passed down over tens of thousands of years.
Knowing about local language allows the whole school community to build an understanding of their locality and its people. It’s an opportunity to inclusively build communities and relationships and restore dignity and pride to all Australians.
For the Indigenous student, knowledge of their language gives them pride and identity through connection to family, to history and to their obligation to continue to engage with and cherish their culture. Knowing their language helps answer the simple questions of “What is my story? Where have I come from? Why am I important?”
How powerful for young aboriginal students to know that they have an oral history that reaches back for over 50000 years.
As teachers, you all experience very different situations in regard to engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Some of you will be in schools with almost all Indigenous students, and if you are from up north, then you will have children who by rights should be taught in the language that they speak at home, if they are to have the same opportunities as other students with English as their first language.
Some of you will teach in schools with no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students at all. One teacher in a Brisbane school with no Indigenous students, told us that she showed the Marrin Gamu video to her year one class and then asked them questions. When she asked them about what country they thought the children were from, none of them knew! A couple thought they might have been from Africa.
She has become a passionate advocate for teaching about language and culture, understanding its inherent value to all Australians.
If you are the teacher of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students then learning about languages gives you a powerful opportunity to interact with a student at a point of understanding of their background — and with that- a window to building trust and engagement. Your students will feel valued and respected.
Language allows you to move beyond the broad term “Indigenous” and relate specifically and locally with your students.
Through language you are recognising the importance of their family.
Through language you learn about — and show respect for the country.
I will talk soon about the two ways of using language in the curriculum which are
- The teaching of language through LOTE
- Teaching about languages through Indigenous perspectives.
Why is the teaching of Indigenous languages important?
Before we go on here, I ask that you set aside what you think you already know and really listen and allow this information I’m about to share with you in.
Our Indigenous languages are just as powerful learning tools -as Indonesian, Cantonese, French and Italian, with the enormous advantage of being relevant to the country, our country, and to our children.
And because we believe that the first languages of Australia have a solid place in the future of tourism, education, justice, environmental studies and the employment streams associated with these.
To the second point.
Why is language important in Indigenous perspectives?
Because explorations around language create an accessible and stimulating pathway into cultural understanding.
And because these learnings can- and do create pathways into rich and rewarding community interactions. Recognition and acknowledgement of people’s history, background and in particular their language dialectare two positive outcomes that are achieved with Indigenous language education.
I would like to show you a video now about The Parkes Wiradjuri language story which beautifully describes the power of languages to heal and unite a community. It was produced by the ABC and First Languages Australia through the Mother Tongue partnership.
Indigenous languages in the curriculum
Our languages are represented within the curriculum in two ways:
- Teaching Indigenous languages — Which means the provision of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages program; and
- Teaching about language — Which refers to embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives across school life.
Let’s first talk about teaching Indigenous languages.
To begin we would like to take this opportunity to commend those schools, principals and teachers, currently delivering a language program. In no particular order:
- Yarrabah State School
- Woorabinda State School
- Doomadgee State School
- Tagai State College
- Crescent Lagoon State School
- Depot Hill State School
- Cape York Academy Hope Vale
- Eidsvold State School
- Aurukun State School
- Waterford West State School
Some of these programs are new and others have been running in various forms for many years. Each of the programs is very different, with their own individual strengths and having overcome diverse challenges to establish and maintain their delivery. These schools are leaders for the rest of us. **Let’s give them a round of applause.**
In Queensland there are a number of documents that support the teaching of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages in schools.
The Queensland Department of Education and Training encourages schools to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students access to their heritage languages where possible. In addition, every state school in Queensland should have a Languages program, and where appropriate this may be a local Aboriginal Language or Torres Strait Islander language.
The importance of recognising and teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages is mentioned in the following Department of Education and Training, State Schools Policies and supporting documents:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Statement
- Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in schools
- Parent and Community Engagement Framework
- A guide to implementing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Syllabuses
The 2016 Advancing Education: An Action Plan for Education in Queensland has the goal of ‘all state schools offering languages other than English from Prep’. The action plan states that the department’s ‘Global Schools through Languages’ section will support ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s access to their heritage by maintaining, learning or researching their traditional cultures and languages.’ The plan also indicates that the Department will provide professional learning and targeted scholarship programs for teachers to enhance language and teaching skills.
The Global Schools Through Languages Unit has published a supporting plan titled, A plan for supporting successful global citizens in Queensland state schools. This Plan states that the Unit will support the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages teachers and learners in the following ways:
- Supporting schools to offer traditional language programs in consultation with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
- Providing networking and professional learning opportunities for teachers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.
- Attracting and training new teachers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members to deliver effective heritage language programs.
- Developing the capabilities of teachers to value and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ first languages and heritage languages through an online professional development course.
Queensland’s P-12 curriculum, assessment and reporting framework, states:
- Schools are strongly encouraged to offer a Languages program from Prep to Year 12.
- Provision of Languages is required in Years 5 to 8.
- Principals, in consultation with their school community, will make decisions about the choice of language and the year levels of provision.
- Schools can choose to provide Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages.
On the ground, we see that many of the schools that have difficulty meeting the Department’s Languages requirements are remote schools in low socio-economic regions. Often these are small schools with high Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student numbers. Supporting first language programs in schools of this types can:
- Address the state requirement for Languages curriculum delivery;
- Increase student participation and achievement; and
- Increase community collaboration in school activities.
As outlined in QCAA’s A guide to implementing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Syllabuses, teaching an Indigenous language at school is at the discretion of the local language community. It was developed to support schools through the community work required before offering a language program at the school.
Significant hurdles for schools, communities and the Department in the establishment of sustainable school language programs are:
- provision of training and ongoing Professional Development for Indigenous language teachers.
- The development of quality local language resources.
- Establishing clear and appropriate pay rates and conditions for community language teachers.
First Languages Australia is working nationally with Departments around suitable models to address these issues, and is looking forward to continuing to collaborate with staff of the DETs Indigenous Education, Policy, and Global Schools through Languages units to this end.
It should be noted that in many instances, Indigenous language programs in schools are initially more expensive to fund than other language programs. Some of the expenses additional to a foreign language program will be:
- The need to support languages teachers’ ongoing language research.
- The production of resources that will only ever be shared across a handful of schools.
- Teacher training and professional development for community language teachers.
- Additional employees required in team teaching situations.
However, nationwide, schools that offer Indigenous language programs report benefits well beyond language learning. School language programs have been seen to:
- Increase Indigenous student attendance.
- Increase performance of Indigenous students.
- Improve race relations in the school and local community.
- Contribute to a positive learning environment within the whole of school.
- Increase Indigenous community engagement with the school.
- Positively engage all students in discussions of Australian history.
This engagement greatly contributes to building mutual respect and regard for each other and builds inclusiveness. These are two very important aspects that need to be passed on to our children for them to contribute to a mentally healthier future Australia. Language education is at the foundation of building our children’s future, for all children. It also strongly supports the federal governments initiative of Closing the Gap.
These are exciting times for languages as we see a significant growth in interest in offering local language curriculum from both schools and language communities.
We all know that this is fun in practice but that was a bit dry, wasn’t it?
This little video of Faith Baisden is going to take us into the next section.
Now let’s turn to teaching about Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages
Many communities and schools are not yet ready to offer a local language program to their students. But those of us in this position have a powerful opportunity to use language in our work to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives across the curriculum.
But how do we do that?
First Languages Australia and partners have developed some fun resources to support teachers in this process. Here are few:
Gambay: Indigenous Languages Map
Gambay is an interactive map that has been collated in collaboration with language centres nationally.
It is our preference that schools use this map rather than other language maps as it better represents our languages, and our communities have the opportunity to update the information on Gambay as required.
Gambay continues to grow — and feedback and community contributions are welcomed.
The map has a number of features:
- Related languages grouped by colour to help communities share resources.
- Embedded Language legend clips give faces to our languages allowing language workers to share why language is important to them.
I’d like to show a our clip of Language legend, Leonora Adidi, who is a member of the Queensland Indigenous Languages Advisory Committee.
- Suggestions to support teachers in making contact with their local language group/s.
- And teachers’ notes linked to the national curriculum from F-10 across English, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, Economics and Civics.
The teachers’ notes on Gambay are limited to the use of the map. Rather they are a larger list of activities relating to all the curriculum links we could identify that could be used by a teacher to teach about our languages in their classrooms.
This list is also a great quick reference for schools, teachers and language centres looking to identify the places where their local resources can link to the curriculum.
Marrin Gamu: Many languages, one song
Marrin Gamu, the video you saw at the start of this presentation, was developed to introduce students to the diversity of Australia’s hundreds of Indigenous languages, and encourage exploration into the first language of their region.
The cross-curricular section contains teachers’ notes and classroom activities around the following headings:
The activities are relevant to levels P-6 across English, Maths, Health and Physical Education, Science, History and Geography.
The next image shows an example.
Additional resources have been developed for C2C Music, P-2.
In partnership with ABC Splash we have been promoting a national competition that encourages school and community collaborations to create and share versions of the Marrin Gamu song, in their local languages.
In addition to collaborating on Marrin Gamu, ABC Splash have been publishing activities and curriculum links around short language films contributed through the Mother Tongue project and other language resources.
If you search the Splash website for ‘Indigenous languages’ you can select resources appropriate for different subjects and year levels.
Here is an example:
- A media resource and activity, relevant to English and Geography, F, 3 and 6;
- Curriculum links.
Yamani: Voices of an Ancient Land
Yamani was a project of the Queensland Indigenous Languages Advisory Committee. The intention was to help Queensland’s language communities over come their fears of using their languages in public. Though we were not singers, songwriters or performers we worked together to write songs in each of our languages and teach them to each other for a performance as part of the Queensland Music Festival.
The film screened for six months on QANTAS flights and twelve months on Queensland’s long distance trains, and is scheduled for broadcast on ABC Me.
Yamani’s ATOM Study Guide includes loads of activities linked to the national curriculum from F-6 across Music, Drama, media Arts, English, Maths, Science, History, Geography, Economics and Civics.
Tracks from the album are also explored in C2C Music, at levels 3 and 4.
What is needed?
The above materials are a great place to start, but to properly embed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures Cross-curricular priority, teachers are calling for resources that they can use independently to teach about their local languages in the classroom.
Some languages have a few books/tools that are appropriate for general classroom use but many do not.
There is an obvious need and with it a powerful window of opportunity for the Queensland’s Department of Education and Training to work with communities to develop a language awareness resource for each locality. This resource could can be used by all schools in each language region, to talk about their language and its links to each of the relevant cross-curricular content areas.
Now has that been a lot to take in? Don’t fret we are nearly there.
I will summarise in saying this: We acknowledge that teachers are heavily loaded trying to fit so much into their day, all under the guise of education. That said, as educators it is incumbent upon us to ensure Indigenous languages are at the forefront of education. This priority will indeed have an ongoing lastly effect, and we will know that as individuals we have done all we can to value, respect and preserve Australia’s Indigenous history. That is our generations responsibility.
As a moments break — Here is a lovey compilation of some of the films contributed by language programs to the Mother Tongue project.
Engaging with your local community
All of this work is about community engagement. The teaching of a local Indigenous language at school must be at the discretion of the local language community.
QCAA’s A guide to implementing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Syllabuses is a leading document nationally. The document steps schools through the things that they need to think about when considering offering an Indigenous language curriculum.
ACARA’s Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages also offers some guidance as does Gambay and the other DET Policy and supporting documents mentioned earlier.
Regional Principals and teachers and are becoming more aware of the employment opportunities that can be fostered through language programs. Work in schools, hospitality, parks and wildlife and tourism for example.
Those of you who saw the presentation from Eidsvold State School today may have gained some insight into the long-term view of Carol Boatwright and her staff for how Languages fit into the regional employment opportunities for their students.
In the short term, much needs to be done to support the training of Indigenous language teachers and the development of local curriculum and classroom resources. For those schools that have a community member willing to teach their language, there needs to be support to provide that person with:
- the training required to teach language in the classroom
- a partnership with a foreign language teacher, or other qualified teacher, to work with that person in a team teaching relationship
- access to professional development to support them to grow their personal language skills for teaching
- additional time, support and resources for the development from scratch of local language resources for use in the classroom
- additional time to work with community around protocols and content for the classroom
There is no denying that the initial delivery of a sustainable local Language curriculum will be resource intensive. However, we have no doubt that the long-term benefits will well out way the costs for the students, for the community and for those teachers and principals who are prepared to take the lead.
To close we would like you to join us in sharing the power of language through song. Sing along with us to the title track from the album Yamani — Voices of an Ancient Land.