Koori History Newspaper Archive

Language ban blamed for Indigenous school attendance drop

National Indigenous Times - Issue 172 - 5th March 2009
By Tara Ravens

NORTHERN TERRITORY, March 11, 2009: A union has blamed a partial ban on local Indigenous languages at remote Aboriginal schools for a drop in attendance, saying "Nazi language police" are enforcing the policy.

Attendance rates at remote Aboriginal schools are down on last year, despite the combined efforts of the federal and Northern Territory governments to get more children into classrooms.

The first school figures for 2009 showed that while more Aboriginal students had enrolled, fewer children were attending school.

There are 243 more Indigenous students enrolled in remote areas outside Alice Springs and Katherine, compared with 2008.

But attendance has dropped by more than two per cent, according to the figures released on Monday by the Northern Territory Education Department.

Both enrolments and attendance are marginally down in Katherine and Alice Springs.

NT Education Union president Rod Smith said there was "no doubt" that NT government plans to effectively scrap bilingual education were to blame.

The government initially said that by the start of the 2009 school year, it would be mandatory for the region's nine remaining bilingual schools to teach the first four hours of each school day in English.

But it watered down its approach following widespread criticism and announced a year's "transition period", with the changes to be fully implemented by 2010.

Mr Smith said some schools had already implemented the "draconian" policy, which was driving children out of classrooms.

"Obviously making them uncomfortable and being unable to converse in their own language isn't going to help. It's just ridiculous," he said.

"The first thing we need to do is to get kids in school ... we need a few carrots."

Mr Smith said there were "people going around like the Nazi language police" at some schools, implementing the change.

"The whole concept has been misconstrued ... there hasn't been a lot of guidance to come out of the powers that be," he said.

About 2,000 Aboriginal children in the NT are not enrolled in school and another 2,500 fail to attend regularly.

The Rudd government hopes a controversial trial program linking school attendance to welfare quarantining will boost attendance.

Under the scheme, parents on welfare will be required to tell Centrelink where their children are enrolled and if the child fails to attend school the government can suspend their income support payments.

Mr Smith said it was impossible to determine the impact of the new policy because the latest attendance figures were not broken down by schools.

"We can't draw any conclusions but it creates a poor community spirit where the teachers have to be the ones holding parents accountable," he said.

"It sets a dangerous precedent and creates tension in the community." - AAP