Aboriginal Education, Education and Language Instruction

Language teaching and home-based education

An important Bible verse that has influenced my thinking about education is found in the Book of Esther.  I wrote it in my journal on Monday 26th December, 1983.  The verse says:

“… every man should be the master of his own house, and the one who speaks in the language of his own people” (Esther 1:22).

I think of places like Fiji, and the nation, after colonization, was encouraged to keep their native language strong.  This means that in Fiji, children are educated in Fijian, but also are educated in English so that the Fijian nation can maintain communication with the rest of the western world.

However, in Australia, there is a perennial resistance to the teaching of traditional Aboriginal languages in our schools.  Very few mainstream schools teach an Aboriginal language as an elective – I do know of a Christian school in Victoria that teaches the Warlpiri language.  And the attempts to teach Aboriginal languages in Northern Territory schools have been repeatedly sabotaged.

I have developed a colour-coded phonics program for the teaching of Warlpiri literacy.  When I trialled the system, the anecdotal evidence was that it made the teaching of the language in a formal setting a lot easier.  However, my efforts were resisted, and eventually all the resources that I developed were thrown out of the school.

It remains my burning conviction that every man should be the master of his own house, and that his children should be educated in the language of his own people.  Language diversity was originally a curse, but the curse can be turned around and made a blessing in Christ Jesus.

Every language has the capacity to preserve knowledge sets that are just not as easily preserved in other languages.   With the loss of languages around the world, there is a corresponding loss of important knowledge and data.

This is where home-based education is important, and marketplace diversity in the sourcing of educational resources is critical.  Such educational liberty does not necessarily make any multinational companies meg-rich, financially, but it does make a community profoundly rich culturally.

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Aboriginal Education, Home-Based Education, Indigenous Education, Indigenous Pedagogies, Schooling

The way forward for Indigenous education may have a link with home-based education research

I worked for eight and a half years in schools that were dedicated to delivering schooling to Australian Indigenous children.  One of the perennial problems was getting the children to come to school, and then if they did come, get them to stay at school for the full day.  Many children reacted violently to their experience of school and schooling, and it was not unusual to have a chair over-turned, obscenities shouted, or other similar displays of extreme behaviour.  I have been spat on, kicked, accused of all kinds of physical contortions that are just not possible, and I believe that I was a well-liked teacher — at least that was what I was led to believe by the children outside the school context.

Biermann  wrote:

… the (Australian) education system played a central part in the colonisation of Indigenous peoples, by devaluing and apprehending the transmission of their cultures, knowledges and languages.  This has led to a deep suspicion, shared by many Indigenous people, towards the ultimate goals and effects of mainstream schooling (Biermann, 2008, p. 28).

In my Master of Education (Leadership) dissertation I addressed the way that schooling has, to date, been delivered to Indigenous children and suggested that they would feel much more comfortable in an environment that reflects their Indigenous pedagogical heritage.  I also argued that Indigenous pedagogies mirror cutting-edge, best practice pedagogies around the world.

A central component of Indigenous pedagogies is relationship.  Learning that lasts does not take place without trust, perseverence, and a sense of purpose about it.  It is not good enough to say that schooling will get you a good job.  It doesn’t, necessarily, lead to a job, and generations of schooled (but unemployed) Indigenous people will testify to that.  I would argue that it is an education that they are needing, not schooling: with its busy work, age-segregation, teachers who have no relationship with the family, centralised curriculum, bells, subject fragmentation, etc..

Home-based education has a lot to offer, and there is a need for much more research to discover why it is that many, if not most, home-based educators get it so right.  Maybe the lessons we learn from the home-based education community will provide us some clues as to how we can do education much better for our Indigenous communities.  My suspicion is that the findings will point to Indigenous pedagogies being used in the home-based education context as being an important contributor to the success of the movement.

We shall see.

References

Biermann, S. (2008). Indigenous Pedagogies and Environmental Education: Starting a conversation. International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning. 4 (3), pp. 27-38.

Box, L.A. (2013). Warlpiri Business as Pedagogy: A Learning Journey. A monograph submitted as partial fulfillment for the degree of Master of Education (Leadership), Moreling College (National Institute for Christian Education), Melbourne, Victoria.

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