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Bilingual education in Australian Aboriginal communities: The forty years of the Yirrkala step model

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Title: Bilingual education in Australian Aboriginal communities: The forty years of the Yirrkala step model
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: In this presentation we look at the successes and challenges faced by a bilingual school in a remote Indigenous community in the Northern Territory (Australia). We also discuss current research tracking pedagogical practice and literacy proficiency in this school (“School B”) and an English-only school in the area (“School A”).

At the community level, there are different varieties of the local Indigenous language spoken. Although each clan has their own variety of, speakers of different dialects can generally understand each other. Currently, children are acquiring a koine variety of the language as a first language (Amery 1985).

Within the Australian political context, the bilingual program at School B is particularly important as it continued to run in the wake of the Northern Territory Government’s 2008 first four hours policy (Nicholls 2008; Waller 2012). The school strives to follow a step model in the local language and English. According to this model, instruction is mostly through the home language in the early years with English instruction increasing as children progress through the grades. In year four 50% of the instruction is done in each of the two languages. After year four focus switches to English language instruction. In actuality the percentage of time spent in each language depends on available staff.

Many Indigenous Australian children living in remote communities under-perform in comparison to their non-indigenous peers in school (Harris 1990; Reeders 2008; Wigglesworth & Moses 2008). Empirical evidence outside of Australia shows that bilingual education does not have any adverse effects on students’ mainstream language education and may even be beneficial for children (Genessee 1994; Cummins 2000). This may be especially true in the Australian Aboriginal language-speaker context, where the failure of non-Aboriginal teachers and Aboriginal students to communicate is widespread (Harris 1984; Yallop & Moses, 2008; Reeders 2008). This challenges the argument from Porter (1990: 119) and others that bilingual education distracts from learning the mainstream target language. In this presentation we discuss ongoing research to examine student literacy development in Dhuwaya as well as English.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to bilingual education (Lotherington 2000) in demonstrating a successful model of bilingual education in an endangered language context we hope to give other communities ideas for practical implementation of such a program in their own language context.


References
Amery, R. (1985). A New Diglossia: Contemporary speech varieties at Yirrkala in North East Arnhemland. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Australian National University. Canberra, ACT.
Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (5th ed.). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power, and pedagogy: bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.
Genesee, F. (1994). Educating second language children: The whole child, the whole curriculum, the whole community. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Harris, S. (1984). Aboriginal learning styles and formal schooling. Aboriginal Child at School, 12(4): 3-23.
Lotherington, H. (2000). What's bilingual education all about? A guide to language learning in today's schools. Melbourne: Language Australia.
Moses, K., & C. Yallop. (2008). Questions about questions. In J. Simpson & G. Wigglesworth (Eds.), Children’s language and multilingualism (pp. 30-55). London: Continuum.
Nicholls, C. (2005) Death by a thousand cuts: Indigenous Language Bilingual Education Programmes in the Northern Territory of Australia, 1972–1998, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 8(2-3): 160-177.
Porter, R. P. (1990). Forked tongue: the politics of bilingual education. New York: Basic Books.
Reeders, E. (2008). The collaborative construction of knowledge in a traditional context. In J. Simpson & G. Wigglesworth (Eds.), Children’s language and multilingualism (pp. 103-128). London: Continuum.
Waller, L. J. (2012). Bilingual Education and the language of news. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 32(4): 459-472.
Wigglesworth, J. & Moses, K. (2008). The silence of the frogs: dysfunctional discourse in the 'English-only' Aboriginal classroom. In J. Simpson & G. Wigglesworth (Eds.), Children’s language and multilingualism (pp. 129-153). London: Continuum.
Yunupingu, M. (1990). Language and Power: the Yolngu Rise to Power at Yirrkala School. In Christine Walton & William Eggington (eds) Language: maintenance, power and education in Australian Aboriginal contexts (pp. 3-6). Darwin, N.T., Australia: Northern Territory University.
URI/DOI: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/25384
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)



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