Labor promises First Nations educators in primary schools

The federal Opposition has committed $14 million to employ 60 First Nations Educators who will teach language in primary schools and share knowledge of local cultures across the curriculum, through classes such as art, science and storytelling.

Labor’s proposed plan, if elected, would see First Nations communities “part of decision-making at every step”. Schools would be able to apply to participate, and applications would be chosen based on need.

The new policy, launched today by Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek, and Shadow Assistant Education Minister, Graham Perrett, fulfils a key demand of the Know Your Country campaign, which calls on all political parties to support First Nations Cultural Educators in every primary school.

That campaign is led by a First Nations Advisory Panel, supported by a coalition of organisations.

Labor’s new promise follows Plibersek’s tabling in parliament of a petition calling for First Nations history and culture to be included in the Australian school curriculum. The petition – which garnered 300,000 supporters – was started by Yorta Yorta and Gunditjmara singer Isaiah Firebrace, who had no exposure to First Nations history or culture at school in northeast Victoria. He only connected with Aboriginal languages through song when he was an established musician.

Co-chair of the Know Your Country coalition, Wiradjuri man and World Vision’s Senior First Nations Policy Adviser, Scott Winch, welcomed the announcement as a positive first step in introducing kids, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to First Nations languages.

“There are more than 250 First Nations languages in Australia, but they are not well known, especially outside First Nations communities,” he said in a statement.

“Learning a local First Nations language is a great way for primary school students to connect with and learn from traditional owners. I can’t think of a better way to develop skills while also developing relationships across cultures – it’s a win-win which benefits everyone.

“This program will help build stronger and more in-depth knowledge for kids about local ecosystems of the country on which their schools are located. There are also great educational benefits for improved learning outcomes for all children when a second language is learned.”

He said the campaign would continue to advocate that this policy be expanded over time to reach more children.

Dr Winch said it was “incredibly powerful” for young people to learn about the history and language of Australia.

“It is also vital for authentic learning of language, culture and perspective of the world’s oldest living civilisation, that all Australian primary school children be able to learn directly from local First Nations people,” he said.

“In this, the first year of UNESCO’s International Decade of Indigenous Languages, this policy highlights to First Nations people that our cultures and languages are recognised and valued by the education system. I know how much it would mean to me personally if schools taught my language, but it’s also an extremely important policy for addressing the Closing Gap target 16: Cultures and languages are strong, supported and flourishing.

“It’s also pleasing that First Nations people will be supported and properly remunerated to share their language with school students.”

Dr Winch said for the policy to work, schools would need to be made culturally ready, and First Nations educators feel supported and safe.

“The Know Your Country campaign’s approach would reach well beyond the classroom as children became better versed in the richness of the Indigenous culture, languages and people of the First Nations Country on which they live,” he said.