First Nations languages preferred by students: poll

Monday, 11 April, 2022

First Nations languages preferred by students: poll

A new poll of primary students shows that children would prefer to learn a First Nations language rather than other languages more commonly taught in schools.

In addition, their parents feel that 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 follows a Federal Opposition announcement that it would commit $14 million over three years to employ a First Nations Language and Culture Teacher in 60 schools.

The Know Your Country campaign — which has described the policy as a “great first step” — 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?”

Campaign advisor Professor Tom Calma, 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.

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 Children’s Voice 2022 survey also revealed:

  • More than half (55%) 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%) of parents wanted their children to learn a First Nations language, followed by Japanese (25%), Mandarin (22%), French (15%), Italian (15%), German (10%) and Indonesian (6%). 23% chose ‘other’. Yet most children (63%) did not know a single First Nations word.
  • The overwhelming majority of children (85%) 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%.
  • 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.

The survey of 650 primary school students was conducted by polling company McNair Yellow Squares in February 2022.

Image credit: © Ben-Ari

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