Cash or culture?

Farrah Tomazin has an interesting piece in today’s Age on strategies to improve the performance of Indigenous children in Victorian schools, identifying a divide between those who say ‘change the school culture’ and those who say ‘spend more money’.

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8 Responses to Cash or culture?

  1. verdurous says:

    If you make school culturally relevant, they start to attend. At least that seems to be what has been found in NSW where Indigenous language subjects are being expanded. When you see the word “literacy”, stick the word “English” in front of it and we start to recognise a certain bias. Kevin Rudd is the champion of English literacy, but what about literacy with respect to AUSTRALIAN languages (which are seriously imperilled).

  2. Patrick says:

    I am pretty comfortable with putting English literacy ahead of any other kind of literacy.

    It would be close to legally negligent not to, and it would certainly be morally wrong. After all isn’t the point to give them a shot at life??

  3. Andrew Leigh says:

    Verdurous, I’m sceptical this matters much, merely because the share of Indigenous kids speaking languages other than English at home is so small (5%, lower than for non-Indigenous kids).

  4. conrad says:

    It would be great to see an indigenous language revival (especially since most such languages are already gone). If there was demand for it, I don’t see why you couldn’t have dual-language schools like exist in many parts of the world. This way you wouldn’t be negligent not teaching English (and I think the results show that kids in these schools are not worse off on literacy measures).

  5. Molesworth says:

    Andrew & Patrick, I think you may have missed verdurous’ point a little. I live in a small NSW country town with a large Aboriginal community, and the local public school has an Aboriginal language component in its curriculum (for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students). It’s not really meant to develop fluency or even basic conversation skills. To my knowledge, few if any Aboriginal families around here speak the local language at home on a regular basis, and not too many are fluent.

    I think the point is that it gives the kids a little something to identify with at school, and something to be proud of. Them seeing the white kids learn and enjoy learning about their culture probably helps with self-confidence among a shy people too. My little sister came home the other day from school and started telling me the local words for various things, and she was obviously quite interested. In a town that the Freedom Ride visited, that’s really quite beneficial. I don’t know whether you can draw any link here, but I have noticed a shift in attitudes among white teenagers and young adults in recent years. Just yesterday at the pub a group of about 15 or more late-teens-early-twenties were drinking together. They were about two-thirds white, one-third black, four-fifths drunk and clearly all friends and mixing comfortably. I doubt that sort of thing would have happened even 20 years ago. They would probably have split up into groups, not necessarily antagonistic, but still separate.

    I’ve also spoken with one of the local teachers who says that he thinks the Aboriginal culture bits at school help improve attendance. I know all this is anecdotal and I’d be happy to be convinced otherwise by the evidence, but it makes sense to me (OK, maybe not the bit about a general shift in attitudes as displayed at the pub – this is likely more deeply rooted).

    It’s not going to be the big policy idea that kills indigenous disadvantage, but I don’t think it hurts and I think it does some good.

    Perhaps some will say there are too many add-ons in the modern curriculum, and maybe they’re right. I don’t work in the field and I’ve got no idea what the research says. But there are plenty of add-ons that I’d junk before this one.

    By the way Andrew, I tip my hat to you for this site. I’ve only just had a proper look, and it seems to bring a refreshing, evidence-based perspective to some really important things. I think I like the idea of paying Koori kids to go to school too. Most of the kids would jump at it I bet, and it would be a pretty cost-effective investment in the long term. A bit of economic incentive goes a long way. I know for a fact that a lot of the Koori kids around here jump at the chance to do a day’s hard farm work for not much money when someone gives them a chance. I suppose my main hesitation is that some would spend it on alcohol or pot. They’re teenagers after all. (Plenty of white kids would spend it on alcohol or pot too, and there would be speed for a few of them too.) Maybe this is something the pilot study could look at, to see if it’s a real problem or if there are ways to overcome it. My other hesitation is that it could stir up a bit of resentment among some white kids/families, adding to the negative stereotypes. A harsh reality. But on balance, I like the idea.

  6. Patrick says:

    Molesworth, that sounds eminently reasonable, and I support that. Unfortunately, although your charity is commendable, what you suggest is irreconcilable with Verdurous’ comment and in particular the weird focus on ‘bias’ towards ‘English’.

    Nothing you said suggests that you think we shouldn’t be ‘biased’ towards ‘English’

  7. Molesworth says:

    Patrick, reading what you said again, I agree. If I ever thought that any extra school subject area was going to eat into English teaching, I’d be very much against that, which I think is your point. English is so important, for everyone. I was surprised to learn there are still a few illiterate (white) poor people around here. And I think it was the height of stupidity for the Howard Government to cut funding for new migrant English language teaching. Hypocrits.

  8. Nana Levu says:

    Someone should tell Farrah Tomazin Cherbourg State School is not in Northern Territory but rather in Queensland.

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