By Richard Trudgen
“What are we going to do now? I keep my children at home and teach them real manners, law, and respect. I know if they go to the community school they will only learn to be lawless adults. They will hardly learn to read and write as I did in school in the mission days. So I keep them at home and teach them real things.” Yolngu Parent 2015
A Modern IT Answer
Almost half of Yolngu children do not attend school. However, there is a modern IT answer. In 2011 Why Warriors Pty Ltd developed 140 Yolngu Matha to English e-Learning modules and trialled them. The response from Yolngu Leaders and parents at Galiwin’ku was overwhelming. Yolngu children, teenagers and parents loved it. Sadly we have never been able to get follow-up funding for it even though we proved it worked.
The Yolngu response to the E-Learning trial Galiwin’ku – Elcho Island 2011
Many Yolŋu parents desperately want their children to get a good education. But they have limited options.
Because Yolngu people speak an original Australian (Aboriginal) language not English they get locked out of real learning opportunities. The current mainstream schooling system offers them little real hope despite many still trying to use it. The lack of culturally appropriate educational environments leaves many Yolŋu students traumatised and/or struggling to learn. The current system destroys many students’ and teachers’ real potential.
For many decades now I have pushed for the training of teachers in Indigenous languages and good cultural competency and communication skills training. This worked for me in 1973 when I was forced to learn the Yolngu Matha language and the people’s culture under the then Mission system. If adopted this approach would not only deliver great benefits in education outcomes, but it would also provide massive savings to government budgets, by slowing down the very expensive teacher turnover. Sadly we have not been able to get any real commitment to this sort of training from any government.
An effective and efficient IT solution
Another solution is to create an e-Learning online Yolŋu-centred school. Once developed it will continue to deliver genuinely effective Yolŋu-friendly education for many decades. This would bring the full power of Yolngu Matha language and culture into play in a powerful way, as it has for over 40,000 years.
Accessed by many
This resource could be accessed by many. It could be used by Yolŋu parents and Elders, Yolngu teens, adults and children to self-drive their own learning. It could also be used by mainstream schools to turbocharge the classroom experience of Yolngu Matha students.
During the 2011 trial, we heard many stories of Yolngu teens and young adults wanting the computers with Yolngu Matha/Engish learning modules loaded on them (computers that had no internet connection ability) to take to their rooms in town and on Homelands where they could practice the learning in a private safe learning environment. They wanted to do this to save face and feeling shame about their inability to read their own Australian language (Yolŋu Matha) or English.
Downloadable learning to write in both their original Australian language and English could also be loaded on this same platform along with many other things. All instructions (audio sound bites) would be in Yolŋu Matha. This would allow the student to have full control and complete cognitive engagement. It would also teach maths, world history and science – in Yolŋu Matha and English – through to a university level. This would be a resource that Yolŋu communities can control to drive their own learning experience, combining the best of traditional and contemporary knowledge.