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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
Authors:Morales, Gemma
Gawne, Lauren
Wigglesworth, Gillian
Contributors:Morales, Gemma (speaker)
Gawne, Lauren (speaker)
Wigglesworth, Gillian (speaker)
Date Issued: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.

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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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