• Indigenous language lessons are lacking from Australian high schools. (AAP)Source: AAP
Less than a dozen year 12 students across Australia are studying an Aboriginal language subject as part of their final year of schooling, with several states having no schools that run traditional language classes at a senior secondary level.
By
NITV News, Will Mumford

22 Oct 2015 - 2:26 PM  UPDATED 23 Oct 2015 - 9:23 AM

High schools across Australia are failing to offer Aboriginal language subjects to students, various education authorities have told NITV News, despite many traditional dialects remaining at risk of becoming extinct.

Only 11 final year students are currently studying an Aboriginal language as part of their Senior Secondary Certificate of Education, according to enrolment figures provided to NITV News by state and territory education boards and curriculum authorities.

That figure excludes Tasmania, which has not provided data.

Director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research at the University of Sydney, Professor Jakelin Troy, said the lack of Aboriginal language study at a senior secondary level was disappointing.

"I think at this stage the big issue might be that there just isn't the pathway into a future career for students," she said.

"In year 11 and 12 students are looking towards their future, so I think the tertiary sector needs to pick up on this and offer Aboriginal languages at that level.”

Aboriginal language year 12 syllabuses exist in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland, however no students have completed these subjects for their final year studies.

The ACT does not have a formalised Aboriginal language course for senior secondary students.

"I think at this stage the big issue might be that there just isn't the pathway into a future career for students."

Seven year 12 students from Geraldton Senior College are studying the Wajarri language for their Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE).

In Victoria, three students from Bright P-12 College are studying Dhudhuroa for their Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE).

NITV News has been told that one student in New South Wales is studying Wiradjuri at Dubbo TAFE for their Higher School Certificate (HSC).

 

However, the course is being completed through TAFE NSW and not NSW Board of Studies.

As there is currently no approved school syllabus for Aboriginal languages in NSW, the course is being run through the state's VET system.

A year 11 and 12 syllabus is currently being developed, with a planned roll it out next year after it has passed requisite approvals.

RELATED STORY:
Open-source Yawaru language app spurs a multitude more
A new app to preserve the near-extinct language of Yawaru from Broome region in the north west of Australia has shared its template and it has created the snowball effect.

Edith Maher teaches the Wajarri language, of the Murchison area, to students at Geraldton Senior College.

This year she has seven students in year 12 and nine in year 11. She believes the study of traditional languages is critical to children and young adults understanding Australia's cultural identity, as well as their own.

"[For many students] their parents and grandparents weren't allowed to speak the language, it was taken away from them, so it's good that now it's in the school with the students," she said.

"Some communities and non-Indigenous people think that if there are no Indigenous students at the school then it's not recognised in the school, but it would be great if everyone can learn the languages. 

Ms Maher believes too much emphasis is placed on how financially valuable languages are for students once they leave school for university or the workforce.

"I think it's seen as not economic to earn some of the indigenous languages - they'd rather students learn Asian languages, for example."

"...It's seen as not economic to earn some of the indigenous languages - they'd rather students learn Asian languages, for example."

Professor Troy said Indigenous language skills can lead to employment opportunities so they should be taught in high schools.

"There will be plenty of work,” Professor Troy said. “There will be plenty of opportunities at the very least for teachers, but there's also work for translators…all across Australia translation in Aboriginal languages is becoming a bigger industry."

How do we compare to NZ?

Australian statistics pale in comparison to our New Zealand neighbours which recorded that 1,258 students were enrolled to sit the exam for Te Reo Māori Level 3, the Māori language subject for year 13 and some year 12 students.

More than 250 students were enrolled to sit the exam for Te Reo Rangatira Level 3, which is a subject for native Māori speakers.

Neither figure includes students who are doing these subjects for their final year of study, but are internally assessed, which is done at a number of schools in the country.

These figures were fairly consistent in 2013, when 1,282 Te Reo Māori and 245 Te Reo Rangatira students enrolled to sit the Level 3 exam and 2012, when there was 1,489 Te Reo Māori and 240 Te Reo Rangatira students enrolled to sit the Level 3 exam.

The 2014 figures were drawn from a pool of 39,843 students registered to sit exams for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), the official secondary school qualification in New Zealand. Enrolment numbers for 2015 students are not yet available.

RELATED STORY:
Indigenous rangers revitalise language and culture
Meet the Unkya Rangers, defenders of Gumbaynggirr country in Numbucca Heads on the NSW mid-north coast. With a love of their job and a passion for the land, they are revitalising local language and culture.

Is change is on the horizon?

Language programs in the early years of schooling are "evolving rapidly" across the country, according to Paul Paton, the executive officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages.

However, Mr Paton said more resources and teachers are required for courses to take off at a senior secondary level.

"There is limited funding available to teach Aboriginal language programs, schools are expected to use their existing LOTE budget, so it becomes a decision between the local language or another language from another country - so that can often restrict the availability of teaching an Aboriginal language program," Mr Paton said.

"Most of the languages in Australia are critically endangered and there's only considered to be a dozen or so indigenous languages that are considered to be strong and have a good chance of survival into the future.

"We need more community language teachers to come into the schools and as communities revive their languages those teachers will become available. It's really about having a whole lot of worlds coming together at the right time - having resources, having the right teachers, having the students coming through who've done those early years, that will all come together at the right time."

Rebecca Crawley teaches the 'sleeping' Dhudhuroa language at Bright P-12 College in northeastern Victoria, and said reviving and preserving Aboriginal language is critical to sustaining culture and history.

"The language [Dhudhuroa] really died out as a result of massacres and disease - since that time the language hasn't been spoken, and we believe it's important for our region because this is the country we live in, and language and culture and land are all connected," she said.

The language program at Bright began after students from the Wadeye community in the Northern Territory visited the school and formed friendships with students at Bright P-12. Both groups of students continue to stay in touch and visit each other regularly.

"At the time it was year 9 students and they were learning an Aboriginal cultural subject, but after the visit the students wanted to go further with their study of Indigenous language and culture, which lead to this subject being taught at the school," Ms Crawley said.

"So it was really driven by the students - they just wanted to be able to learn more."

"The language [Dhudhuroa] really died out as a result of massacres and disease - since that time the language hasn't been spoken, and we believe it's important for our region because this is the country we live in, and language and culture and land are all connected."

Year 12 Bright student Bryce Carnes has enjoyed studying an Aboriginal language and hopes to continue his studies at university.

"I started this program in year 9 and since then I've been on two trips to the community in the Northern Territory [Wadeye] - it's given me a whole new perspective of Indigenous culture," he said.

"It is the local language of the area so I don't know why more people wouldn't want to learn about it - I think it should be more important than a lot of other languages that are taught."

All Ms Crawley's year 11 and 12 students are non-Indigenous, and she said it is important for them, and herself, to be sensitive and culturally observant.

"It is not [our] language at all, so we have to be really careful and respectful of the indigenous custodians and make sure that everything we do is driven by them and that they're comfortable with the direction we're working on," she said.

Jed Pryor, one of Ms Crawley's year 11 students, now works part time with the Thathangathay Foundation, which promotes healthy living, school attendance and facilitates employment opportunities for Aboriginal youths in the Wadeye community.

"When I was in year 7 the boys from Wadeye came down and I became really close with one of them, we called each other our brother and we were really good friends," he said.

"I was interested to know about his culture and lifestyle and so I started learning an Aboriginal language, and I've really liked it."