Murrinhpatha Language Maintenance and Literacy Education at OLSH Thamarrurr Catholic School, Wadeye
The education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia is a highly complex and contentious topic. Western education in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia is marred by the colonial legacy of assimilation, enculturation into the Western world and the ‘civilising’ of Indigenous students into “productive members of the colonial economy” (Schwab & Fogarty, 2015, p. 12). The self-determination era of the 1970’s saw the beginning of the bilingual education movement in the Northern Territory (NT) “sparking a period of remarkable creativity, educational engagement and innovation” (Disbray, 2014, p.126). Since then, different models of bilingual and biliteracy education have evolved, existed and ceased to exist in various Aboriginal communities in the NT (Devlin, Disbray, & Devlin, 2017).
This study will document the processes of pedagogical practice and student learning and aim to delineate the relationship between policy discourse and localised, ‘grassroots’ educational initiatives. The study will take place at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Thamarrurr Catholic School in Wadeye, NT. The school has run a Murrinhpatha language and literacy education approach alongside a bilingual two-way teaching and learning (L1 and English) approach in various forms since 1976 (Bunduck & Ward, 2017). The approach is grounded upon several language maintenance philosophies (Bunduck & Ward, 2017) including the educational advantage of learning knowledge, skills and strategies in one’s L1 first.
I will utilise a participatory action research cycle of documenting, reflecting, trialling and evaluating engaged ethnographic outputs. Research methods will be data driven and inform the subsequent steps in the research journey. The documentation and evaluation of different types of pedagogical practice and student learning will inform ‘next steps’ in how we strengthen the school’s approach, demonstrate the intellectual rigour required for quality Murrinhpatha education and acknowledge the ideological and structural processes that enable and/or restrict aspired outcomes. I will work with participants to reflect on curriculum expectations, explore the underlying ideological principles of the Murrinhpatha language maintenance and literacy approach and assess how this translates into classroom practice and community led education. This research begins with the premise that additive bilingual education exerts fundamental influence over students’ cognitive, linguistic and academic growth (Cummins, 2000; Baker, 2011) and that literacy and language is an instrument of political and socially organized processes (Hornberger, 2003; Street, 1993).
Bunduck, D., & Ward, T. (2017). The program at Wadeye, past and present. In B. Devlin, S. Disbray, & N. Devlin (Eds.), History of bilingual Education in the Northern Territory: People, programs and policies. (pp. 285–292). Singapore: Springer.
Devlin, B. C., Disbray, S., & Devlin, N. R. F. (Eds.). (2017). History of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory: People, Programs and Policies. Retrieved from //www.springer.com/gp/book/9789811020766
Disbray, S. (2014). At benchmark? Evaluating the Northern Territory bilingual education program. Retrieved from http://minerva-access.unimelb.edu.au/handle/11343/40960
Hornberger, N. H. (2003). Continua of Biliteracy: An Ecological Framework for Education Policy, Research, and Practice in Multilingual Settings. Church Point NSW Australia: Multilingual matters.
Schwab, J., & Fogarty, W. (2015). Land, Learning and Identity: Toward a Deeper Understanding of Indigenous Learning on Country. UNESCO Observatory Multi-Disciplinary Journal in the Arts, 4(2), 1–14.
Street, B. (1993). Introduction: The New Literacy Studies. In Cross-cultural approaches to literacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.