Learning language is at the heart of National Reconciliation Week in WA schools

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

As National Reconciliation Week (27 May – to 3 June) draws to a close for another year, many schools across Australia explored creative and meaningful ways to reflect on this year’s theme: Be Brave. Make Change.

Western Australia (WA) is home to around 76,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – a figure that represents around 12 per cent of the total population across Australia. According to the WA Department of Education, schools there commemorated National Reconciliation Week to learn about Aboriginal histories, cultures and achievements.

Leonora District High School is one of those schools. It marked the week by beginning to build a yarning circle and cultural garden that will be an important and sustainable space where current and future students can learn about Aboriginal culture and history. And for Reconciliation Week to be genuinely meaningful and impactful in schools where indigenous students are such a vibrant part of school life, local educators know that it is what happens after it finishes that matters.

Beachlands Primary School teaches students Wajarri language.

At Beachlands Primary School in Geraldton, Aboriginal education is at the heart of student learning, with language and culture embedded as a vital part of the daily school curriculum.

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The school’s inclusive Wajarri language program has been running for almost 10 years, with all students encouraged to speak and learn the local language.

Students at the small school also take part in a range of On Country excursions with local community members that combine ancient knowledge with STEM initiatives.

It’s a program that Principal Helen Barnes says the school is proud to offer.

“Through these quality initiatives we shine a spotlight on Aboriginal culture and histories,” she says. “At our school, students experience quality education enriched in a culturally responsive environment.”

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Beachlands Primary School is one of 85 schools across WA that offers more than 20 Aboriginal languages to almost 10,000 public school students – and the numbers are increasing, from 39 schools in 2016.

“Expanding the teaching of Aboriginal languages lies at the very heart of our commitment to reconciliation,” Department of Education Western Australia Director General Lisa Rodgers says.

“Our young people have a genuine appetite to learn more about Aboriginal cultures and histories, and teaching Aboriginal languages is a powerful way to do this.”

Geraldton Senior High School students participated in National Reconciliation Week activities.

At Bruce Rock District High School, students learn about animals and the six Noongar seasons, as well as how to construct sentences in Noongar.

Wiluna Remote Community School is also proudly sharing Aboriginal language learning and was recently awarded the Outstanding Educational Body Promoting Aboriginal Language Learning honour at the 2022 Goldfields Aboriginal Language Awards.

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First Nations Media Australia is the national peak body for First Nations not-for-profit broadcasting, media and communications and says “Australian indigenous languages carry with them an intimate understanding of the ecological systems and the land from which they came”.

With a growing number of WA schools taking positive steps to make the celebration of indigenous language such a key part of the education they offer, the part they play in preserving language is something that will have an impact long after National Reconciliation Week is over.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live