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Aboriginal Educator Questions State Government Language Revitalisation Program

A leading Aboriginal language educator has criticised the Department of Education’s management of Indigenous languages in NSW schools.


The State Government is currently trialling five location in NSW to teach local Aboriginal languages.

The trial is called the Language Nest Program.

The Coffs Harbour “nest” was launched in February 2014 to pass on the Gumbayngirr language.

Clark Webb is a Gumbaynggir educator and the executive officer of the Bularri Muurlay Nyanggan Aboriginal Corporation.

Mr Webb said the NSW Department of Education was mismanaging the program and should not be tasked with rolling it out.

“We feel it is our community that needs to drive the direction of our language and how they are taught and learnt, not the department,” Mr Clark said.

“We feel the department is dictating who can and cannot speak our languages not the community” he said.

Part of the issue for Mr Webb is teachers must have at least a TAFE Cert 1 to teach in NSW Schools.

This rules out many Aboriginal Elders and some other people in the community who might be highly knowledgeable of language and culture.


Mr Webb also questioned the methods being used to teach the Gumbaynggir language.

“Rather than having an emphasis on reading and writing we need to have a greater emphasis on hearing, responding and speaking, because that’s how we revitalise the language,” he said.

“I have zero confidence that the Department of Education is able to produce proficient speakers but through the community we can produce people who speak the language very well.”

“A well-known elder commented it felt like dispossession all over again,” Mr Clarke said.

A complicated history

Gumbaynggirr Elder Uncle Barry Hoskins argued the department rolling out the program was problematic in itself, because of the history of Aboriginal dispossession.

“Aboriginal kids were actually punished for speaking language when I was at school, so how can the Department of Education now decide how my children and grandchildren learn our language?” he asked.

Uncle Barry also highlighted that discussions were held as far back as October 2014 for the creation of a community liaison officer, yet the position had still eventuated.

“Given it has been so long I’d like to know what has happened to the money allocated for this position over the last two years as it has only now been advertised,” he said.

Department responds

The NSW Department of Education defended the rollout of the Language Nest Program but said the program was still evolving.

Coffs Harbour Network Director for the NSW Department of Education Jenny Murray said it was not the intention of the department to restrict anyone.

“The program is still in its infancy we are still establishing protocols and systems, ” she said.

Ms Murray said it was essential for Gumbanggyir teachers to have some level of qualifications.

“We need to remunerate people at a high level and the only way we can do that is to ensure they have a level of education training in the teaching of that level,” she said.

She said the department worked closely with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs who are also coordinating the appointment of a community liaison officer and the program was important to the department.

“What we know from the research where cultural perspectives are incorporated into the school curriculum Aboriginal students performance is significantly higher compared to schools that don’t have that,” she said.

“It is an important part of our schools, important part of our local culture and we do respect the first people of this wonderful community we live in.”


This article originally appears at:
Article taken from the following publication:
ABC News
Article submitted by:
Carla Mascarenhas

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