Aboriginal Policy Research Consortium International (APRCi)

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Language, Culture and Curriculum





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A crucial question in cross-cultural education is how to bridge the cultural and linguis- tic differences between home and school so that a child’s identity can be supported without limiting his or her chances of academic success (Eades, 1991). Various models of bilingual education have been implemented in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory of Australia but the implementation of such programmes is often far from ideal. In the school where this ethnographic study was conducted, miscom- munication between Aboriginal students and their non-Aboriginal teachers was found to be commonplace. Even by late primary school, children often did not comprehend classroom instructions in English. In addition, many students attended school irregu- larly, and many had a history of mild hearing loss due to otitis media (middle ear infection) which is highly prevalent in Australian Aboriginal communities. Cultural differences in communication were not easily differentiated from hearing-related communication problems by non-Aboriginal educators. These difficulties were exac- erbated by the lack of specialist support and appropriate training for teachers in cross-cultural communication and ESL teaching. Although the Aboriginal teaching assistants were often effective in minimising communication breakdown, the extent of miscommunication severely inhibited the children’s education when English was the language of instruction and interaction. The problem identified is one that should be of major concern to all concerned with Aboriginal education.