Aboriginal Languages in School

Posted on: Wed 3 May 2017

In this week’s program, we find out about the importance of language and about learning languages and how this fits into the school curriculum.

To find out more about this important topic, we talk with April Lawrie who is the Director of Aboriginal Education in the South Australia Department of Education and Child Development.

Throughout history, there were times when people were not allowed to speak or learn their own language and were forced to learn the language of the people or the government that ruled their country. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages stopped being used for everyday communication because people were forced to stop speaking their languages as a result of government policies aimed at assimilating communities into the non-Aboriginal population. April talks about the importance of language and what language means for each person’s sense of who they are and where they belong and the importance of language for identity and culture.

There have been times when communities across Australia worked actively towards getting languages back into everyday use, and schools played an important role in keeping languages alive. Until about the late 1980s, bilingual education was a central part of Anangu education. In the first few years of school, teaching in most Anangu schools was done in Pitjantjatjara, with English being introduced once students had begun to develop literacy in their first language. After the 1980s, there was a move away from bilingual education and children were taught in English from the first day they started at school. April talks about how this change has affected children and how they learn.

Over the years, a lot of work has gone into developing the Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages. We ask April to tell us about the Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages and what this Framework means at a practical everyday level for how and what students learn at school.

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