Anangu Muru Wunka – Talking Black Fella: a critical policy analysis of the Northern Territory compulsory teaching in English for the first four hours of each school day

Anangu Muru Wunka – Talking Black Fella: a critical policy analysis of the Northern Territory compulsory teaching in English for the first four hours of each school day Thesis

Graduate School of Education

  • Author(s): Oldfield, Janine Gai
  • Published: 2016
  • Publisher: The University of Melbourne
  • Volume: PhD

Abstract: This research investigated the effects on two remote Indigenous communities of a Northern Territory (NT) of Australia education language policy, Compulsory Teaching in English for the First Four Hours of each School Day (FFHP). Although the policy was introduced in 2008, it continues to have profound effects on the policy landscape of the NT which has never re-established the bilingual policy platform. The investigation involved a critical analysis of the FFHP and an ethnographic study of its effects. The research reported here follows two qualitative lines of study – the policy text (the process and content of the policy) and policy discourse (the discourse around the policy) in addition to its effects on those it was targeting. The data gathering methods entailed collecting key texts from critical moments of the FFHP implementation - the policy itself and operational guidelines in addition to media texts and a Hansard record. The field data collection comprised interviews with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous language education experts, two community case studies (one of which retained its bilingual program at the school and one which did not as a result of the FFHP) and critical ethnographical research. The latter used purposively selected adult and child participants for group and individual interviews (a total of 53). Given the Indigenous context of the field research and the desire to accurately depict remote Indigenous perspectives, Indigenous methodologies and participatory research approaches were employed. This entailed culturally appropriate consultation with participants, checking the accuracy and interpretation of interview data and Indigenous led participant selection. The analysis of the policy and key community interviews was achieved with critical discourse analysis (CDA). The particular approach to CDA employed was that developed by Reisigl and Wodak (2001) called Historical Discourse Approach (HDA) which emphasises the historical situatedness of discourse and the political dimensions and contexts at work in political texts. CDA is also frequently paired with ethnographic data collection. All community interviews were subjected to content analysis (CA) in order to deduce the major patterns and themes that arose in relation to the effects of the FFHP. This study revealed a language and cultural hierarchy operating with the adoption of the FFHP that entails a postcolonial construction of Indigenous people as ‘invisible’ and deficient. Although not as blatant as the texts associated with the separately occurring Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), there are distinctly covert negative representations that similarly allude to Indigenous abnormality and failure and imply criminality. In addition, the ideologies, presuppositions and assumptions of neo-liberalism and symbolism of the nation-state operating in the policy, construe, if only covertly, Indigenous languages (ILs), culture and people as in need of mainstreaming to achieve higher socio-economic status, well-being and national ‘belonging’. This is despite evidence that categorically demonstrates attachment to language and culture enhances well-being and socio-economic status. The effects of the policy on the two communities were surprisingly similar. Both communities complained of erosion in community participation and employment at the local schools that undermined the economic independence, self-determination and governance of the local population. Community participants were critical of the erratic policy creation and implementation and marginalisation of community members. The community with suspended bilingual programs complained of greater negative academic, well-being, behaviour and cognitive effects on children and a deterioration in resilience, all of which were difficult, if not impossible, to address given the oppressive political climate ‘out bush’. Such policy failure is common throughout the Indigenous policy landscape in Australia. As a consequence of the lack of legislative protection offered to Indigenous people and abuse of international human rights entailed in the FFHP, this study highlights the need for future policy creation and evaluation to be conducted from an Indigenous perspective and governance.

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Suggested Citation
Oldfield, Janine Gai, 2016, Anangu Muru Wunka – Talking Black Fella: a critical policy analysis of the Northern Territory compulsory teaching in English for the first four hours of each school day, Volume:PhD, Thesis, viewed 18 April 2024,

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