Children would rather learn an Indigenous language than Japanese

Children would rather learn a local First Nations language than Japanese, while their parents believe learning the history of Australia’s First Nations people is more important for their children than studying the Egyptian pyramids at school.

These results of a new poll of primary school students released today follow a federal Opposition announcement last week that it would commit $14 million over three years to employ a First Nations Language and Culture Teacher in 60 schools.

Describing the ALP policy as a “great first step”, the Know Your Country campaign said its Children’s Voice survey found seven in 10 primary students want to regularly learn from a First Nations Cultural Educator – but only one in three had the opportunity at school last year to meet even one person from the local First Nations community.

Only one in three [students] had the opportunity at school last year to meet even one person from the local First Nations community.

The campaign wants to see all political parties, federal and state, support funding Cultural Educators in every primary school in the country.

World Vision’s First Nations Senior Policy Adviser (and Wiradjuri man) and co-chair of the Know Your Country campaign, Scott Winch, said its aim was to share the ancient wisdom of local First Nations people with children directly.

“There’s an incredible power and investment in knowing the history and unique language of the land you are standing on. When children learn directly from a local First Nations educator, our research shows they are more likely to enjoy the class, and develop a thirst to learn even more,” he said.

“It would be terrific if children knew as much about the importance and had a deeper appreciation of local significant sites and creation stories where the children live, play and go to school – as well as Tutankhamun’s tomb and the Pyramids.

“Australia is blessed to be home to the world’s oldest living culture. Children need – and want – to learn it from local First Nations people themselves.”

“There’s an incredible power and investment in knowing the history and unique language of the land you are standing on.” – Scott Winch

Schools are required to teach First Nations content as an Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority cross-curriculum priority and teachers are meant to be capable of delivering First Nations content under AITSL teacher standards, Dr Winch said.

“The survey shows limited progress in the 10 years since these important frameworks were implemented,” he said.

“There is minimal delivery of First Nations content across the curriculum, however the survey revealed that when a First Nations person was engaged to teach directly, the number of First Nations topics taught in class actually trebled.”

The Children’s Voice 2022 survey also revealed:

  • More than half (55 percent) of parents felt learning more about our First Nations peoples in school, such as traditional ways of caring for Country, was much more important than the pyramids and Ancient Egypt.
  • Nearly a third (28 percent) of parents wanted their children to learn a First Nations language, followed by Japanese (25 percent), Mandarin (22 percent), French (15 percent), Italian (15 percent), German (10 percent) and Indonesian (6 percent). 23 percent chose ‘other’. Yet most children (63 percent) did not know a single First Nations word.
  • The overwhelming majority of children (85 percent) enjoyed learning about First Nations peoples and cultures. If they had direct contact with a local member of the First Nations community, students’ enjoyment increased to 92 percent.
  • Most Australian parents with primary school-aged kids want governments to fund local First Nations cultural educators and see it as an important way to help heal and unify the nation.

(The survey of 650 primary school students was conducted by polling company McNair Yellow Squares in February this year.)

Quotes from children

“Where I live there seems to be lots of Aboriginal stuff around our community. But we never get to discuss it at school. It would be cool and important. I wish I understood it and could explain it.”  -Zoe, Prep, Victoria

“I want to learn more about bush foods people ate. They are the people that lived here first and they are very important to us so we should learn about them a bit more I think.” – Noah, Grade 1, Queensland

“I am Aboriginal but we only have a painted wall and a room to visit. We do acknowledge in our assembly but that’s it.” – Lacy, Grade 5, SA

“I like the stories we read at home about Aboriginal things. But we don’t learn about it at school. I wish we did. It would be fun. I’d like to learn about the seasons or animals because I think Aboriginal people think about those things differently. And how they look after the land.” – Alba, Prep, Victoria

“I really want to learn more because it’s really important to me. Because I want to care about them and care for them.” -Micah, Prep, Victoria

“We could have learned more.  Would like to learn more about their living conditions and how they live in community, and about how they were treated by early settlers.” -Mia, Grade 5, Victoria

“We had Jack from high school come to my school and showed us how to use a Boomerang. And he showed us some Aboriginal items. My Art teacher taught me about Bunjil the eagle and how important he is. We learned about Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. We used to have only the Australian flag at the front of our school. Now we have Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal flags. We read some Dreamtime storybooks the Aboriginal people read to their kids and get passed on. We made and painted our own boomerangs.” – Samuel, Grade 2, Victoria

“I love learning in the Djurwalinjang group at school about Aboriginal culture and would like to learn more about the animals and language.” -Holly, Grade 1, NSW

“I learned about the Stolen Generation and that people would knock on Aboriginal people’s doors and take their kids to the government and they would get their new family and learn at a school …  I feel like it was good to learn that life was not always like this and there was a time before this, and I think it’s important to learn this about our First Nations people’.” -Kiera, Grade 5, Victoria