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Patji-Dawes Award: call for nominations


Date: 23 November 2016

Teaching Australians to be smarter – award to acknowledge inspirational language teaching

Australia struggles to meet goals on second language acquisition, but it isn’t for lack of effort on behalf of the country’s language teachers, says director of the ARC Centre for the Dynamics of Language, Nicholas Evans.

Professor Evans has announced the start of the nomination process for the pinnacle award for Australia’s language teachers, the Patji-Dawes award. “This is an opportunity to give greater recognition to Australia’s language teachers and the efforts they make to enable Australians to learn other languages,” he says.

During the election campaign in 2013, the government set the goal of wanting 40 per cent of Year 12 students studying a foreign language within a decade. The following year, the Minister acknowledged the target would be hard to reach given that language learning had dropped from around 40 per cent in the 1960s to 11 per cent in 2014. “The sad fact is that while it is a worthy goal to set a stretch target for this important area of learning, we’re not getting anywhere near it,” says Professor Evans. “Even then, the government’s target is low by international standards compared to countries like Finland where it’s expected all students will be trilingual by the time they complete high school.

“It could be so much better. Speaking two or more languages rather than one has obvious advantages for any Australian who wishes to pursue a dynamic career, and the science is proving that acquiring another language has a profound effect on intellectual performance.”

Professor Evans says the award asks Australians who have become fluent in a language other than English to nominate their teacher. “It may be a university teacher of Mandarin, or Indonesian high school teacher, a Spanish teacher of an evening class or an indigenous language teacher from one of Australia’s many multilingual communities. We are asking speakers who have become fluent in another language to nominate the language teacher who inspired them most.”

The ARC Centre of Excellence is asking for nominations for the Patji-Dawes Award, recognising outstanding achievements in language teaching, by 17 March 2017. The winner will be announced on May 8th and a conferring ceremony will be held on the Gold Coast in early July.

The name of the Patji-Dawes award refers to a historic language-teaching relationship that took place some 228 years ago in Sydney Cove. The teacher was Patyegareng, a gifted girl of around 16 whose mother tongue was the Eora language. Her student, William Dawes, was a lieutenant who arrived on the First Fleet.

Evidence of Patyegarang’s remarkable skill as a teacher and Dawes’ curiosity as a learner has been preserved in a series of notebooks that Dawes maintained over the course of their regular lessons.

Dawes later went on to stand up against colonial violence and was expelled from the colony for refusing to participate in a punitive expedition against the Eora people.

He went on to dedicate much of his life to eradicating the global slave trade.


Deadline for nominations: 17 March 2017

Winner announced: 8 May 2017

Award conferred: 6-8 July 2017

Web information:

For further detail or request for interviews please contact Leanne Scott on 0437 839 216

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