Saturday 6 December 2014

"What sort of education

do you want for your child?"
Okay, old question - very old. Apart from the obvious answer ("good" or "excellent") most people would say things like "the basics" (meaning reading and mathematical skills) and perhaps something like "the sort that is going to get them a job when the time comes".  
Our Prime Minister, whom I believe to be genuinely interested in the affairs of indigenous Australians, was criticised yesterday for saying that he thought one of the priorities for indigenous Australians should be education. His comments were made in the context of the number of indigenous Australians in jail - compared with the number of other Australians. The media, ever ready to criticise any politician, found other people who were all too ready to say that was not the answer to the present problems.
I disagree. The literacy levels of people in jail tend to be much, much lower than literacy levels in the community. They are lowest of all among indigenous inmates.
Indigenous literacy rates overall are much lower than they are in the wider community. I don't have figures to hand - and would doubt their accuracy. I do remember the many people who came to my indigenous friend Rosie for help with filling out forms. They go to her son now. Nothing much has changed in the past twenty years.
"They are wasting so much money!" Rosie would cry in despair at the "indigenous education" programmes.
I talked to many indigenous Australians when Rosie was alive. All of them wanted their children to have a "good" education. Almost all of them wanted their children to have an education "like white kids get".
I talked to them about retaining their own culture but the reality was that they did not speak an indigenous language fluently, if they spoke one at all - and most of them did not. They knew there are vast English language resources that are not available in indigenous languages. They wanted their children to have computer skills, good number skills, good language skills. They wanted their children to be able to read well - something they almost always could not do themselves. The people I talked to were intelligent, inquiring, caring human beings who had not had a good education.
Their children are not getting it either.
The "politically correct" thinking which demands that indigenous Australians are educated within their own cultures and languages may (although this is doubtful) be ensuring that these traditions are kept alive but they are not providing the education or skills young indigenous Australians need to successfully integrate, get and retain employment.
I do not, as someone I was discussing this with said, want to see their cultures and languages lost. If we lose those things we will lose a vast, rich and wonderfully varied history and way of thinking. It is important we try to keep it alive. What we can't do is keep it alive at the expense of the right of all children to the best possible education, an education which stretches their abilities and their imagination and prepares them for adulthood and employment.
I have heard all sorts of arguments about how it is "better" for young indigenous Australians to be taught in their "first" (indigenous) language. I tried some of these arguments out on a newly qualified teacher who is going back to teach in her indigenous community. She disagreed - and she speaks the language of her community. Her view was that children need an English language based education and that, without that, their own culture and language will not survive. It's not the politically correct view or the fierce defence of her language and culture that I expected.
But I think she may be right. I think that our Prime Minister may also be right. But it is not a popular way of thinking about things. It is not politically correct. There are too many people with vested interests.
What worries me is that we might actually lose cultures and languages to inflexible beliefs about what is "right" and how children should be educated.
Rant over.


Anonymous said...

That new teacher wouldn't have qualified as a teacher if she didn't have good English skills, and if she goes out and teaches only in her own language her students will never make it as teachers, doctors, etc. Even checkout chicks need good English skills. She sounds like a sensible girl.

catdownunder said...

A number of the checkout chicks at Foodland are university students - we have some interesting conversations but the other customers must wonder at them.