Bilingual education crucial to survival of Aboriginal culture and future
Yingiya (Mark) Guyula
03 Oct 2018 07:03 GMT
An independent Aboriginal Member, Yingiya (Mark) Guyula, has stressed to the Northern Territory parliament in Australia that the survival of Aboriginal culture and the future is dependent on a strong bilingual education approach. This was his speech:
Mr GUYULA (Nhulunbuy): Mr Deputy Speaker, today I stand to celebrate and congratulate the work of many educators across the Northern Territory-Yolngu and Balanda-whose achievements are documented in this book: The History of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory.
Some of these people are here in the gallery, as you can see. Mr Brian Devlin and the people who put their effort into this book. I feel proud to have you here as I speak.
This book tells the story of our experiences and education, and the importance of language. Not just in the classroom but as the language of instruction.
My own story is told in this book by my Waku, John Greatorex. I grew up living on my mother’s country and my father’s country, until the age of about 10. My education began through a Yolngu school system. I was taught by my kin, and learned about the world from my Yolngu perspective.
When I was 10 years old, I told my parents I wanted to go to school in Galiwinku. Initially I was placed in Year 7 because of my age, but because I didn’t understand any English, I was moved down to Year 1. There were many children laughing at me, because I did not understand English.
The Year 1 teachers explained concepts in my language, and as an intelligent 10 year old, I quickly mastered the concepts, as they were explained in my first language. When I moved back to the classroom with children my own age, I quickly surpassed their ability.
I waved goodbye to those children who had laughed at me as I was moved up several grades very quickly, and eventually I was chosen to attend Dhupuma College with all the other high-achieving students.
There are two important reasons why I achieved these outcomes in school. Firstly, I had a Yolngu education until the age of 10, when I was intellectually capable of understanding another world view, and I was strong in my Yolngu identity.
And secondly, I achieved at school because I was sent back to Grade 1 where western concepts were clearly explained in my first language.
This book brings stories from Alice Springs town camps, Areyonga, Barunga, Galiwinku, Numbulwar, the Pintupi-Luritjpa region, Mapuru, Milingimbi, Santa Teresa, Tiwi, Wadeye, Willowra, Wurrumiyanga, Yuendumu, Yipirinya, Yirrkala and homelands. These are stories about two-way education.
Two weeks ago I told a few stories at Garma about two-way education. This is a story from later in my life when I was training to become a pilot. I found myself following two paths. One path was the Balanda life of studying to be a pilot. The other path was about learning my Yolngu education—songlines, manikay, paintings—the law and the knowledge that would contribute to my becoming a leader.
But these paths were not travelling side by side. They were travelling off in different directions and the gap between them was growing wider. I became like a dog running between two masters, from one path to the other and back again.
Eventually, I had to come back to the path of Yolngu education and lead my pilot life behind because the gap had grown too wide and I needed to continue learning the Yolngu way of life, the law and the land to sit with my elders and receive the knowledge.
The experience gave me great insight into the Western schooling experience. I see the current education system is failing our children because it fails to close the gap by bringing two cultures and languages together. Our communities and children cannot see the relevance of school when it does not relate to our Yolngu world.
Many schools are working very hard to achieve these goals, but they have not been well supported and are often undermined. This is the problem. In order for Aboriginal students to be successful, the government and Department of Education have to share their power or hand it over.
Currently, the entire power concerning our children’s education does not rest with Yolngu people. It is out of our hands. When I say, ‘Yolngu people’, I am referring to Aboriginal people.
This reflects our whole community experience. It is why Yolngu leaders are pursuing treaty and have done for a long time. As Brian Devlin states:
"The history of bilingual education must be set as part of a larger story of Aboriginal people’s struggle to take back control of [our] lives, to express and live [our] own identities and organise [our] communities according to [our] values and aspirations."
Schools that have had bilingual education programs …
Have enabled "Aboriginal teachers, parents and community members to take their rightful place in the schooling of their children by playing an active role in the design, delivery and control of education."
Current government policies are about community-led schools. I am eager to see real changes. I do not mean through the few community consultations, I mean handing over authority to the Aboriginal nations so that we can appoint our teachers, school leaders and strong ESL teachers, we can decide the direction of our curriculum—both Western and Yolngu. We can revitalise Yolngu teacher training and homeland education.
Our schools should be filled with Yolngu educators, elders and knowledge. We must not place our children in a position where they are torn between two paths, learning very little from either or falling into the gap. We want our children to have two-way education, two paths travelling so closely side by side that our children can walk on both paths. This is how we will close the education gap.
This book shows us that two-way education is a pathway for developing genuine community-led schools. I thank the authors and contributors for documenting an important history that provides hope and advice for the future. I want to provide a copy of this book to the Parliamentary Library Service with the hope that others may read about this history, about the schools and communities in their electorates and understand that the survival of Aboriginal culture and the future is dependent on a strong two-way education approach.