The death of the remote Aboriginal first language teacher: reviving remote teacher training pathways in the International Year of Indigenous Languages

Year: 2019

Author: Osborne, Sam

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The establishment of schools in remote Aboriginal communities heralded a significant shift away from traditional models of Aboriginal education where teaching was everyone’s business, a continuous process of modelling and observation, inclusion and participation, and the curriculum un’disciplined’. Schools relegated local educators to roles such as classroom assistants, or in some (historical and continuing) cases, ‘part of the problem’ to be ameliorated by the ‘hope’ of Western education.

In spite of (a few) localised efforts to prioritise Aboriginal educators and language(s) in schools (such as the Ernabella Mission model), the ‘trained teacher’ remained the domain of non-Aboriginal outsider educators. This changed during the so-called policy era of land rights and self determination (1960s-1980s) as bilingual education policies and resourcing accompanied Aboriginal teacher education programs across remote communities.

Since the early 1990s, policy support and resourcing for bilingual education in remote communities plateaued and finally, evaporated (Nicholls, 2005). For more than a decade, a policy logic of intervention and Closing the Gap has once again relegated the first language educator to untrained classroom assistant status, or worse, unwelcomed nuisance.

In South Australia, a commitment to reinstating bilingual instruction models in remote (Anangu) schools by 2029 has been announced but emerging Aboriginal first language educators no longer have access to historical training programs. These programs were designed to prepare remote Aboriginal educators towards registration as teachers in their local schools and were dismantled in the wake of bilingual instruction’s untimely death. Those local(remote) educators trained in the previous era of teacher training programs are now largely retired or have died and serious questions of policy development and investment need to be addressed urgently. Similarly, non-local pre-service teachers who might choose to teach within a remote Aboriginal school bilingual model are limited in their study choices to adequately prepare them for such a task.

In this paper, current initiatives are discussed with a view to proposing necessary next steps towards producing a workforce of local and non-local educators that can operate within a bilingual instruction frame Aboriginal first language remote schools. There are courses that do not exist that need to be written, resourced and taught. Reforms to the teacher standards (AITSL) are needed to accommodate remote Aboriginal first language educators working in local(remote) first language programs, Teacher Registration Board policies need revision, and investment into a new cohort of (both ways) capable educators is now critical.