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Byron Shire
December 1, 2023

Australian kids want to learn First Nations language

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In order to transcend the disappointment of the Voice referendum, many political and Aboriginal leaders are focusing on ‘truth-telling’.

Australian kids want to learn First Nations words and culture more than other, foreign languages.

A new poll* of primary school students has revealed that children would rather learn a local First Nations language than the commonly-taught Japanese, Mandarin, French, Italian, German and Indonesian.

The parents of the kids say learning the history of Australia’s First Nations people is more important for their children than studying the Egyptian pyramids at school.

The Children’s Voice survey released today follows a Federal Opposition announcement last week that it would commit $14 million over three years to employ a First Nations Language and Culture Teacher in 60 schools.

Know your Country

First Nations teacher and cultural educator Jasmine Miller and her students at the amazing St Leonards Primary School. Photo supplied.

The Know Your Country campaign   invites all political parties, Federal and State, to support funding Cultural Educators in every primary school.

The campaign-commissioned Children’s Voice survey found seven in 10 primary students want to regularly learn from a First Nations Cultural Educator – but only one in three had the opportunity at school last year to meet even one person from the local First Nations community.

Know Your Country ambassador and rock icon Peter Garrett said primary schools were specially placed to set up children for lifelong learning.

‘If children are asking to learn more First Nations language and culture then we should listen to them,’ he said. ‘I’ve spent the last three months on tour around Australia – acknowledging Country at every stop – and I’m seeing how thirsty Australians are for knowledge of First Nations people and culture. Even so, schools not rock concerts should be Australians’ gateway to the world’s oldest living culture.’

‘What better way to improve our understanding of culture than to teach young children the languages first spoken on this land thousands of years ago?’

A genuine hunger from both parents and children

First Nations Cultural Educators can help provide cultural nourishment to children, teachers and school communities on their Country.

Campaign advisor Professor Tom Calma, AO, from the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, said the findings show a genuine hunger from both parents and children themselves to be authentically taught more about the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and languages. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if the local First Nations language for ‘hello’ rolled off our children’s tongues as easily as Bonjour or Ciao?’ he said.

Campaign Co-Chair Scott Winch said Know Your Country was about sharing the gift of that ancient wisdom with all children directly from local First Nations people.

‘There’s an incredible power and investment in knowing the history and unique language of the land you are standing on. When children learn directly from a local First Nations educator, our research shows they are more likely to enjoy the class, and develop a thirst to learn even more.’

‘It would be terrific if children knew as much about the importance and had a deeper appreciation of local significant sites and creation stories where the children live, play and go to school – as well as Tutankhamun’s tomb and the Pyramids.

The world’s oldest living culture

Boon Wurrung Country.

Australia is blessed to be home to the world’s oldest living culture. Children need – and want – to learn it from local First Nations people themselves.’

Prof Calma said a more holistic education guided by local First Nations Cultural Educators would help build a greater depth of knowledge across more areas, and stronger respect for First Nations people.’

Required to teach First Nations content

Dr Winch said schools are required to teach First Nations content as an ACARA cross-curriculum priority and teachers are meant to be capable of delivering First Nations content under AITSL teacher standards. ‘The survey shows limited progress in the 10 years since these important frameworks were implemented.

‘There is minimal delivery of First Nations content across the curriculum, however the survey revealed that when a First Nations person was engaged to teach directly, the number of First Nations topics taught in class actually trebled.’

The Children’s Voice 2022 survey also revealed:

·         More than half (55 per cent) of parents felt learning more about our First Nations peoples in school, such as traditional ways of caring for Country, was much more important than the pyramids and Ancient Egypt.

·         Nearly a third (28 per cent) of parents wanted their children to learn a First Nations language, followed by Japanese (25 per cent), Mandarin (22 per cent), French (15 per cent), Italian (15 per cent), German (10 per cent) and Indonesian (6 per cent). 23 per cent chose ‘other’. Yet most children (63 per cent) did not know a single First Nations word.

·         The overwhelming majority of children (85 per cent) enjoyed learning about First Nations peoples and cultures. If they had direct contact from a local member of the First Nations community, students’ enjoyment increased to 92 per cent.

·         Most Australian parents with primary school-aged kids want governments to fund local First Nations cultural educators and see it as an important way to help heal and unify the nation.

A better education than the one we received

Know Your Country ambassador Justine Clarke said we need to ensure that our kids get a much better education than the one we received about local First Nations Country, people, culture and language? ‘Australian children have a hunger to connect with their country and this ancient and unique history that we share, our cultural educators need to be remunerated for their knowledge and expertise and our teachers are screaming out for authentic support to teach this part of the curriculum with confidence. Know Your Country is the answer.’

The Know Your Country campaign – run by a First Nations-led coalition – is asking for all Parliamentarians, at all levels of Government to commit to ongoing funding for schools to employ First Nations cultural educators.

(*The survey of 650 primary school students was conducted by polling company McNair Yellow Squares in February this year.)


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  1. There are many Aboriginal and Torres Strait languages.
    Will young men and women who, upon completing their formal education, travel to Europe and the Americas, work part time in hospitality and fall in love, will they woo in bunjulung or gullibul?
    Japanese, Indonesian, Maori, remember China? Let’s be getting real.

  2. When I ask a young person to define a simple word, they give me a synonym.
    When I ask them to define “synonym”, they say “a bunch of words that mean the same thing.”
    Is there any chance we could have a crack at actually teaching them English?

    • Relevance to this article?

      I’d be fairly impressed if a young person gave me these explanations. After all dictionaries, like this one from Merriam-Webster will rely quite heavily on synonyms:

      “Definition of wanker
      1 chiefly British slang, usually vulgar : a person who masturbates
      2 chiefly British slang, usually vulgar : JERK, DOLT”

      • Synonyms have similar but different meanings they are not interchangeable. To get to “new speak” you have to conflate terms so the people can’t have nuanced conversations. This has been going on for a while.
        If they taught English in schools, people would have noticed that Howard paid off the Federal debt by greatly increasing the National debt. And when he then said the Australian Governments job is to dispose of Commonwealth debt, they would of realised he was rubbing a scam in their face.
        Input form an ignorant population is worst than no input from them at all.

        • Precise definition of a word is a challenging task which is why dictionaries will give a range of information: part of speech, synonyms, derivations, examples of common usage in a range of contexts, evolution and often more.

          Some terms like “federal” (adjective), “commonwealth” (used as both noun and adjective) “government” (used as both noun and adjective), like many technical terms are more easily defined than many in the language eg “behalf”.

          Like scientific terminology though they involve knowledge and concepts that go beyond the strictly English language classroom. All are important. All are important.

          I agree with you however that basic knowledge of our system of government is vital curriculum, as is study of the nuances of language and they way it is used to influence and manipulate.

          Of course synonyms involve shades of meaning but you can be assured that this is basic teaching in an english classroom. My point was simply that it’s not that valid to be scathing about young people who offer you synonyms to aid definition or suggest “synonyms” are words with similar meaning.

          It’s not really that relevant to point out to you that your “would of” would raise eyebrows among English language pedants as the accepted declension is “would have” but it may just indicate that none of us can afford to be too smug.

  3. Probably better to learn to write/speak international English properly first – then study a second preference/native one.

      • I learnt Latin at school and it occasionally comes in handy. However the English language has and continues to be, influenced by a wide range of conquests, other historical events and social forces that have seen influences from a wide range of languages.

        The rationale for language teaching includes broadening of outlook and cultural experience and a greater understanding of the complexities of the mechanisms of language. There is nothing wrong with being exposed to more than one unfamiliar experience.

  4. I wonder if they will feel cheated when they get to the end of their school years and find that they are excluded from lots of job opportunities by Aboriginal people, on the basis of their race? What effect will the feeling of being cheated, of feeling resentful about this deception, have on Australian society in the future. I am at wits end as to how to explain to my Aboriginal daughter why I can’t have a job – and she has to live in poverty – because of my race stopping me from being able to apply for the work that I spent years at university getting a mandatory qualification for (which Aboriginal people now are not required to have). This is what Indigenous-identified positions amount to

    • “excluded from lots of job opportunities” by 3% of the population???, noting that all of Australias resources was/is theirs (it was unlawful under Royal Law, British Parliamentary law and International Law to colonise already occupied land.

      • Incorrect. There was no written code of law here so there was no need to declare war. They were considered lawless gangs initially.
        But if you dispute that, then the Common Law of Conquest. Also the treaty of Westphalia would cover it.

        ““excluded from lots of job opportunities” by 3% of the population???”
        This is confusing to you? Just hire unqualified people of a certain tiny ethnic group over everyone else and that industry will be full of that group. See Hollywood for details.

  5. The languages of this country describe this country. Learning the Aboriginal languages gives insight into what this country is. Seasons are a good example – Spring in England is where all the bare trees suddenly shoot new leaves, whereas Spring here is just a date and largely has no nexus with our seasons. Aboriginal language has the words that correlate with both how this land functions as well as the 60,000 years of how society functioned here before the British, they give an insight into the appropriate descriptions of this land and our 60,000 year old culture. Loss of local languages is another act of cultural genocide

    • English is not a native language of Britain. It’s built from Languages of successive invaders.

      Macassan trepang fisherman have been trading and interbreeding with Aboriginals over the last 2000 years.
      The Chinese have 2000 year old maps of Australia too.
      11,500 years ago people moved in from Asia and brought their dogs with them and that’s were dingoes come from.
      45,000 years ago some other group moved in (probably the first Homo-sapiens) and that was the original origin date for Aboriginals but then other bones were found from the previous Ice age period 60,00-70,000 ago but there is doubt that those were Homo-sapiens and are closer to a different species from Asia.

      This is all coming from Australian University work and is cited by Governments. Your tax dollars at work.
      The point is that the people you call Aboriginal are very different from what was here 60,000 years ago and are a lot more closely related to us than they are the two legged species that was dodging carnivorous Kangaroos all those millennia ago.
      Trying to make Aboriginals into something they are not is the real cultural genocide. They were just like every other stone age culture throughout the world that got conquered by more advanced people. Stop “Otherising” them. They are not forest spirits.

  6. Sounds like a great idea , and about time . 26 years of dithering . Howard has got a lot to answer for hasnt he. And as far as antiquity goes , the writing and the law have been here for a long long time . Big long time . It’s just that the stupid uneducated Europeans couldn’t read it. Or it suited them not to. Still acting like stubborn donkeys . El buro , the ass. Destroying it on purpose if they find it, to suit their narrative . Those caves in WA, a perfect example.


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