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The importance of learning in a language you understand

Bilingual, endangered languages, Learning, remote communities

Date: 16 June 2017

The Whitlam Government’s reform agenda had profound impact on many aspects of Australian life in the 1970s. There were key reforms to the legal system and tertiary education, and Land Rights and the adoption of a policy of ‘self-determination’ for Indigenous communities, all of which led to the introduction, in 1973, of the Bilingual Education Program in the Northern Territory. At its most ambitious, the program was operating in English and 19 Aboriginal languages in 29 remote schools.

Today many of the reforms of the 1970s are still in place but sadly the NT Bilingual program has dwindled, with just eight remote NT schools still working to teach this way. This is despite so many who worked within the program still testifying to its ability to improve outcomes for pupils. These perspectives are included in a new volume, by Samantha Disbray, a Research Fellow with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, and her co-editors Brian and Nancy Devlin. The volume is a History of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory, which tells the story of the program, and shines a spotlight on its bottom-up, community-focussed approach. Nancy Devlin summed up the aim of the book at the outset of the project, “We should think about putting together a book that gives those who are still alive a chance to tell their story.”

The book also features chapters by CoEDL's Inge Kral and Cathy Bow and by CoEDL associate investigator Michael Christie.

Today in the digital online magazine, The Conversation, Samantha continues the themes of the History of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory by writing about the need for more Aboriginal teachers in schools. She gives an excellent outline of the current state of research with regard to bilingual education and concludes with a reflection on the importance of community involvement. Here is the link.

 Top image: Samantha Disbray with the new book History of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University

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