Evaluating Bilingual Education in Warlpiri schools*

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DOI: 10.1075/slcs.147.03dis
In book: Language Description informed by Theory, Chapter: Evaluating Bilingual Education in Warlpiri Schools, Publisher: John Benjamins, Editors: Rob Pensilfini, Myfany Turpin, Diana Guillemin, pp.25-46
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Abstract
The Bilingual Education Program in the Northern Territory was established in 1973 to deliver an effective education to students in remote Indigenous schools. In 2008, the NT Government closed the Program, citing low student achievement in English literacy as its rationale. This chapter evaluates the Program according to a wider set of criteria, with particular focus on the Warlpiri schools. It considers the training of local staff, community involvement in schools, the development of curriculum, and extensive literature and linguistic documentation. These criteria are not prominent in government evaluations, yet are identified in national and international literature as key to achieving student outcomes and echo priorities expressed by Indigenous adults involved in education.
Evaluating Bilingual Education
in Warlpiri schools*
Samantha Disbray
University of Melbourne
e Bilingual Education Program in the Northern Territory was established in
1973 to deliver an eective education to students in remote Indigenous schools. In
2008, the NT Government closed the Program, citing low student achievement in
English literacy as its rationale. is chapter evaluates the Program according to
a wider set of criteria, with particular focus on the Warlpiri schools. It considers
the training of local sta, community involvement in schools, the development of
curriculum, and extensive literature and linguistic documentation. ese criteria
are not prominent in government evaluations, yet are identied in national and
international literature as key to achieving student outcomes (UNESCO 2008a,
2008b; Silburn et al. 2011) and echo priorities expressed by Indigenous adults
involved in education.
1.  Introduction
e Bilingual Education Program (the Program) operated in the Northern Ter ritory
of Australia from 1973 until 2008. Established in response to the Northern Terri-
tory Government’s call for remote Aboriginal children to have “their primary edu-
cation in Aboriginal languages” (NTDE 1973: 1), the Program sparked a period
of remarkable creativity, educational engagement and innovation. e Program
required Indigenous teachers, language curriculum and teaching materials. Train-
ing courses, mentoring programs and literacy production centres were established
to meet the need for Indigenous sta and resources, and to enable Indigenous
community members to take an active and central role in the education of their
children. e Program also required specialist language support sta, including
* e author acknowledges and thanks Warlpiri teachers Nancy Oldfield from Yuendumu
School, Helen Morton and Carol Kitson from Willowra School, and Gracie White from
Lajamanu School for their reflections on the Bilingual Education Programs at their school
and their work with Mary Laughren, which they kindly shared for this chapter.
 Samantha Disbray
teacher linguists1 and regional linguists. In 1975, Mary Laughren took up the posi-
tion of linguist for the Warlpiri region, a position she held until 1992. Working in
collaboration with Warlpiri colleagues, Mary Laughren lled a number of roles,
from theoretical linguist, lexicographer and on-the-ground eldworker to teacher
trainer in classroom methodology and rst-language literacy and curriculum
adviser, making a signicant contribution to Warlpiri bilingual education.
is chapter provides an historical account of the development and recent
vicissitudes of the Warlpiri Bilingual Program. Its focus is on aspects of the Pro-
gram that Warlpiri themselves see as measures of success: their involvement in
their schools; Warlpiri languge and culutral knowledge in their children’s learn-
ing; teacher training; curriculum development; and the extensive resource pro-
duction and linguistic documentation that the Warlpiri Program has generated.
ese achievements are not prominent in evaluations of the Warlpiri Program,
yet such factors have been identied in international literature as key to achieving
student outcomes (UNESCO 2008a, 2008b; Bernard Van Leer Foundation 2004;
see also Harris 1995: 13–18). In a recent study Silburn et al. (2011: 33–40) nd that
community involvement and leadership, rst-language and multilingual instruc-
tion, and culturally responsive practice and curriculum, are crucial to educational
success. ese factors resonate with the priorities expressed by many Indigenous
educators.
e chapter is organized as follows. In §2, criteria for evaluating the bilingual
programs in the NT are reviewed; §3 outlines the history of the bilingual programs
in the Warlpiri communities, focusing on some of the measures of success listed
above; and §4 concludes by looking at the future of Warlpiri education.
.  Evaluation of the Bilingual Education Programs
Evaluation of the Bilingual Education Programs (renamed Two-Way Learning in
1999) is both complex and controversial (Silburn et al. 2011; Devlin 1995, 2009b).
Negative and decisive appraisals by the NT Government have focused solely
on student outcomes in English literacy and numeracy, resulting in the threat-
ened closure of the program in 1998 and nal closure in 2008. Criticism of the
1998 decision over a lack of evidence for claims of lower student performance
in bilingual programs, strong community opposition and recommendations from
a number of ensuing reports, meant that the program was reinstated in 1999 as
1.  e teacher linguist position was developed specifically for bilingual programs. It was a
non-teaching position, responsible for supporting first-language and English teaching and
curriculum design across the school.
Evaluating Bilingual Education in Warlpiri schools 
Two-Way Learning (Simpson et al. 2009). However, the new program lacked
the support, policy guidelines and resourcing of the previous bilingual program
(Nicholls 2005).
In 2008, results from the National Assessment Program – Literacy and
Numeracy (NAPLAN), in place since 2006, were used to justify the closure of the
Two Way Learning program. In a media release in October 2008, the then Minis-
ter of Education announced that the rst four hours of every school day would be
taught in English (Scrymgour 2008). No policy was developed to expand on the
media release. Unarguably, the poor results from NAPLAN testing are of concern,
with results in the NT uniformly low (Devlin 2009a). is is particularly true in
remote settings where children are speakers of a language or dialect other than
Standard Australian English, irrespective of program type. e appropriateness of
NAPLAN testing as a measure of educational achievement and English language
development for such learners has been questioned (Wigglesworth et al. 2011).
Indigenous people involved in bilingual education, however, have stressed
the signicance of their children’s knowledge of their traditional language and
culture, alongside children’s development of English language and literacy skills.
ey value children’s development of traditional identity, language and literacy
as an end in itself, and as a means to educational success and to English language
development. e Handbook for teachers in bilingual schools states it is not a case
of “either/or” but “both/and” (NTDE 1973: 3), as does Warlpiri educator Helen
Morton in her response to the 1998 announcement to end the bilingual program:
It’s really important to us that we keep our language strong. We don’t want to lose
it. I know, I worked at Yuendumu Language Centre for ten years and fourteen
years here at Willowra school. English is really hard for kids in transition and
pre-school to understand, but Warlpiri they can understand easy. ey learn it by
looking at the alphabet. We don’t want to lose bilingual education, we want our
kids to learn both ways. (NTDE 1999a: 9)
is section is broken into two parts. §2.1 reviews evaluations of student perfor-
mance in English as a measure of the bilingual instructional approach. It shows
that a lack of systematic data from all schools, non-bilingual and bilingual, has
made an evidence-based comparison of the student outcomes in NT schools
largely impossible (Silburn et al. 2011: 26). §2.2 discusses further aspects of the
programs, which have been deemed important by communities and educators,
and the education literature, but have been less prominent in policy decisions.
.1  Evaluation of the Bilingual Education Programs: English literacy
Devlin (1995) maps three phases of formal evaluation of the Program, from 1973 to
1993. e rst phase, undertaken by external consultants and the NT Department
 Samantha Disbray
of Education’s Bilingual Education Consultative Committee, considered various
aspects of the edgling Program’s implementation. Some observations on student
performance in English were made. ey noted that the transfer to English lit-
eracy was later than expected, which was originally expected at grade 3.2 ey
also raised concern about the quality of the English language instruction and the
lack of sta trained in teaching English as a Second Language (NTDE 1980: 37;
Spring 1980: 22). is has been an ongoing problem, still unresolved across remote
schools (NT DET 2003; Simpson et al. 2009).
e second phase of evaluation through an accreditation system began in
1980 (NTDE 1980: 25). Students from six bilingual schools were tested in English
and maths and the results compared with those from six schools without bilingual
programs (Devlin 1995). e results from the handful of schools monitored in
this process are mixed, with some results lower from the students in the bilingual
schools than in non-bilingual schools, and some higher, particularly at the year 7
level. However, the process was time consuming, under-resourced and short lived.
e appraisal process in the 1990s marked the third phase of evaluation. It
included more input from the local community and the schools themselves were
responsible for producing the reports. Student progress from the Primary Assess-
ment Program was also to be included and evaluated. Despite the rich qualita-
tive data and school-wide involvement in the report, they did not include student
performance data but rather “commented fairly broadly on progress being made
by students in attaining literacy and numeracy” (Devlin 1995: 33). According to
Devlin (2009b: 7) the process “generally found […] that schools with bilingual
programs were performing as well as or better than the comparison schools” e
process had the advantage of forcing schools to reect on their practices and docu-
ment strengths and weaknesses in all areas of program implementation and deliv-
ery, but again did not generate hard data on students’ language outcomes.
Evaluation by outside agencies and experts was largely limited to the develop-
ment of the bilingual programs during the rst phase. One of the few independent
and systematic evaluations of students’ language performance was the study by
Murtagh (1982), who measured rst and second language oral prociency among
Kriol-speaking children. He tested children in years 1, 2 and 3 attending the bilin-
gual program at Bamilyi school and the non-bilingual program at nearby Beswick
school. Murtagh’s results showed that children schooled bilingually scored better
on some measures of English language prociency in years 1 and 2, and better on
.  e revised aims set out in the 1986 bilingual Handbook state that the transfer to English
literacy would take place at grade 5 (NTDE 1986a: 7 – Aim 4).
Evaluating Bilingual Education in Warlpiri schools 
all measures at year 3. In the Kriol language tests a similar pattern emerged. ese
results are oen cited, yet no further studies were carried out.
Academic performance and language development data was crucial for the
ongoing support for the bilingual programs, particularly in the face of opposition
present within the Department of Education and NT Government from the outset,
and to justify the additional costs of the program (Spring 1980). In 1985, Christine
Nicholls, as principal of Lajamanu Community Education Centre, undertook pre-
liminary discussions with e Australian Council of Education Research “who
agreed to undertake a 10-year independent review assessing the educational out-
comes of the bilingual programme in our school” (2005: 162). Permission for the
project to go ahead, however, was refused by the Department. Such a collaboration
might have launched a wider systematic and independent evaluation of student
performance, in both rst language and second language.
More recently, system-wide testing regimes, such as the Multi-level Assess-
ment Program (MAP), administered 2001–04 and now the national-wide
NAPLAN regime, have been introduce. is is now carried out in all Australian
schools, perhaps marking a fourth phase of student outcome evaluation. Devlin
(2004) reviewed the available MAP results from a set of schools with a Two-Way
program and a set of “like schools, comparing test scores for reading at years 3, 5
and 7. Similar to previous results, the scores for year 3 students in Two-Way pro-
grams were lower than those from “like” schools, yet similar at year 5 and higher
at year 7. As the data set is small, particularly with the alarming drop in student
participation in all schools at years 7 and 9, Devlin warns that the ndings are
indicative rather than conclusive.
Until the introduction of systemic testing, no process was developed and
resourced to gather English language performance data from schools with or with-
out bilingual programs. e new testing programs are, however, problematic. As
mentioned above, the value of NAPLAN as a measure of educational achievement
and English language development for learners of English as second language
has been questioned (Wigglesworth et al. 2011). In addition, the use of the 2008
results to make rash policy changes have been seriously criticized. Devlin (2009a)
reviewed and contested the 2008 NAPLAN data tabled in the NT parliament and
used to justify the closure of the remaining bilingual programs. His review found
the data decient in a number of respects. e sample was poorly selected, incom-
plete and incorrectly treated, making the analysis unreliable (2009a: 13).
Apparent poor English language results have oen been given as grounds
for suspicion and criticism by government of the bilingual programs. However,
no conclusive evidence can be found for this as no systematic data collection
was made. Similarly, no systematic program for documenting and monitoring
academic performance results for rst language development was developed.
 Samantha Disbray
Locally, however, schools carried out this work, in the course of local curriculum
development and reporting. Outcomes for language and literacy in rst language
for individual schools can be found, for instance, throughout the Annual Reports
of Teacher/Linguists in the Bilingual Programs in NT Schools (later Annual Reports
from Specialist Sta in Bilingual Program in NT Schools).
.  Evaluation of the Bilingual Education Programs: Wider criteria
In the literature on the NT Bilingual Education Programs a broad range of criteria
for evaluation can be found, echoing the factors identied in the Menzie’s Report
(Silburn 2011) listed above. ese highlight the importance of local Indigenous
language, knowledge and control of education. Such evaluation criteria can be
traced back to some of the earliest goals of the program, such as the 25 recom-
mendations made by O’Grady and Hale (1974: 3–6), which were largely taken up
in policy and are contained in the eight aims set out in the 1986 Handbook for
Aboriginal Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory (NTDE 1986a). e crite-
ria found in the literature include:
1. government policies and their relationship to language rights and language
maintenance (Gale 1990; Devlin 2004; Hoogenraad 2001; Nicholls 2005;
Simpson et al. 2009)
2. community involvement, team teaching and Indigenous control of schools
(Batten et al. 1998; Graham 1986, 1999; Harris 1995; McKay et al. 1997;
Marika 1999; Ngurruwutthun & Stewart 1997; Tamisari & Milmilany 2003;
Warlpiri Triangle Reports, e.g. NTDE 1999a).
3. the development of local Indigenous and bilingual pedagogy, curriculum and
materials, broadly or in the local context (Gale 1997; Marika-Munggiritji &
Christie 1995; Ngurruwutthun 1991; Tamisari & Milmilany 2003; Spring 1980;
Watson 1988; see also Warlpiri Triangle Reports from the 1990s onwards).
Indigenous educators’ evaluations have constantly reasserted the importance of
these criteria. is is oen expressed with the notion of “two-way”,3 where equal
positioning of Indigenous sta, language, knowledge and pedagogy alongside
.  Stephen Harris (1990) has used this term extensively in describing the design of NT
bilingual education programs, which cover Indigenous and non-Indigenous curriculum areas.
However, Hoogenraad highlights that the term (or similar) is used by Indigenous people in a
less restricted sense (see Hoogenraad 2001: 134–135 for a discussion). See Nicholls (2005) on
the adoption by NT DET to replace ‘Bilingual Education’ in 1999 (Two-Way Programs), which
she argues does not embrace the principles Indigenous educators and others have expressed
with the notion of ‘two-way’.
Evaluating Bilingual Education in Warlpiri schools 1
non-Indigenous sta, English language curriculum, pedagogy and outcomes is
sought. Devlin denes the key concept underlying a “two-way” philosophy as:
an underlying model of bilingual/bicultural education in which power is shared,
the curriculum is balanced, the existence of competing knowledge systems is
acknowledged and the program is related to language use and cultural observances
in the community. (2004: 26)
A professional exchange between Indigenous and non-Indigenous colleagues was
crucial to achieving a ‘two-way’ approach in NT education settings. It formed a
basis for a collaborative, informed and respectful approach to a bi-lingual and bi-
cultural school environment (Batten et al. 1998; McKay et al. 1997; NTDE 2004).
is “two-way” exchange placed demands on Indigenous and non-Indigenous
sta. Indigenous sta were required to learn English and educational/cultural
concepts (such as teaching and assessment methodology, and knowledge of main-
stream subject areas) and support English-language teaching. Non- Indigenous
sta were required to learn Indigenous knowledge, such as language, cultural
concepts, practices and pedagogies, and support Indigenous-language teaching.
Two important practices to realise this “two-way” goal were Learning Together
sessions (NTDE 1986a) and team teaching (Graham 1986).
Learning Together sessions were whole-school professional development
meetings designed to exchange cultural and professional knowledge. Such
sessions were generally coordinated by the teacher-linguist. Such professional
learning developed teaching competency in both Indigenous and non-Indige-
nous sta. It was also crucial in ensuring that the knowledge and skills held by
Indigenous sta, largely outside of the mainstream educational knowledge, were
recognized and was not dominated by non-Indigenous knowledge. is was par-
ticularly important given the constant sta turnover amongst non-Indigenous
sta. No formal evaluation of this professional learning has been undertaken,
but in educators’ evaluations, Learning Togethers were an important aspect of
the Bilingual Education Program in their schools (e.g. Lajamanu Accreditation
report, NT DET 1999b).
Team teaching involved Indigenous and non-Indigenous teams learning,
planning and teaching together, oen supporting the formal training Indigenous
teachers and assistant teachers were undertaking. While little formal evaluation
of team teaching has been undertaken, the greater number of trained Indigenous
teachers and teacher assistants in schools with a bilingual program as compared
to schools without a bilingual program can be taken as evidence of a positive out-
come (Gale 1990; Harris 1995; Hoogenraad 2001). More anecdotally, Bowman,
Pascoe and Joy (1999) have documented the importance of team teaching in
teaching literacy in English and rst language at Maningrida school.
 Samantha Disbray
e production of literacy and teaching materials production for students’
rst language was also central to the development of the Programs. Gale (1997) has
written on the various phases of the development of Indigenous literacy and liter-
ate practices and the prodigious output from communities in the NT. Harris has
described some important socio-political purposes of vernacular literacy devel-
oped in the bilingual schools (1995: 8–13). Considering the collections created
in Central Australian languages alone, the output is impressive.4 In Warlpiri lan-
guage, at the Bilingual Resource Development Unit (BRDU) at Yuendumu and
the literacy production centres at Willowra and Lajamanu, for instance, over 700
titles, including early to advanced readers, ction and reference works, and com-
munity newsletters, have been produced.
Indigenous researcher and bilingual educator Dr Marika (1999) has provided
a professional and personal reection on vernacular literacy research and produc-
tion, and its role in developing Indigenous pedagogy at Yirrrkala school (see also
Marika-Munggiritji & Christie 1995). e inextricable link she builds between the
development of vernacular literacy and teaching materials, and the development
of Indigenous curriculum and pedagogy is evident in other locations too. Lan-
guage resources were developed collaboratively, with elders, educators and other
community members, oen with the assistance of linguists and teacher linguists.
Materials document Indigenous knowledge, including: cultural knowledge (such
as land tenure, ceremonial life, social practice and organisation); local history and
Dreamtime stories; and knowledge of the natural world (such as plants, animals,
ecosystems), as well as hunting, tracking and resource use. Educators have skilfully
woven these themes into the various local curricula, oen incorporating science,
maths and social science along with language and literacy outcomes. Examples
of such curricula include local documents (Galtha Rom and Ganma at Yirrkala
School; Dhanarangala Murrurinydji Gaywanagal, later Gattjirrk at Milingimbi
School; the Warlpiri theme cycle in the four Warlpiri schools) and the Northern
Territory Curriculum Framework: Indigenous Language and Culture Outcomes
(2002).
e closure of the Program removes the impetus and support for collabora-
tion, professional learning and the further development of pedagogy, curriculum
and resources. is represents an additional but hidden loss. Warlpiri educator
.  e Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages project, a partnership between Charles
Darwin University and NTDE (http://www.cdu.edu.au/centres/laal/?q=laal) will see these
valuable materials digitally archived and made available with new media formats in and
beyond school settings.
Evaluating Bilingual Education in Warlpiri schools 
Barbara Martin, speaking at the 2009 Warlpiri Triangle Workshop, is aware of
this loss:
We used to support each other and work together. But now, this four hours
English, it’s separate. We don’t really know what we are doing, we don’t know
how to t Warlpiri. Warlpiri is important too, for our kids, because they
understand Warlpiri. ey can start learning a lot of new things, school things
in Warlpiri. And before it was working really well, when we had team planning,
support from a teacher linguist, Learning Togethers, team teaching, all of that.
(NTDET 2009a: 10)
e aspects of the NT bilingual programs discussed above have not been included
in government appraisals of the program. However, such areas were embedded
in policy (Bilingual Handbook, NTDE 1986a and previous versions), and perfor-
mance in these areas was documented in the accreditation reports of the 1990s,
providing evidence of local commitment and achievement of these outcomes.
We move now to consider these wider evaluation criteria in the context of the
Warlpiri–English bilingual programs.
.  Warlpiri Bilingual Education Program
When the Bilingual Education Program began in 1975 at Yuendumu there were
ve classes in the school: three early primary classes, an upper primary, and a
post-primary class. Living conditions at the government settlement, established in
the late 1940s, were basic, with many Warlpiri living in bough sheds and humpies
in the 1970s, and still into the 1990s. European schooling had been available to
Warlpiri people for only two decades. Just a handful of people in the community
were literate in English and there were no trained Warlpiri teaching sta and there
was no existing culture of literacy. Community demand for bilingual education led
to the development of programs at Willowra in 1976 and Lajamanu in 1981. e
outstation schools established in the mid-to-late 1980s at Waylilinypa and Nyirrpi
(later to become a community school) also ran Warlpiri programs.
e various programs have at times run smoothly and strongly, and all have
faced times when the challenges have been too great for programs to run eec-
tively. Programs stood the best chance of working well when a strong, stable and
supportive sta were present. A competent teacher-linguist was pivotal, as was the
support of the school principal. e Program at Lajamanu school, for instance,
was strong in the 1980s as a capable and dedicated team of Indigenous teach-
ers and teaching assistants worked with teacher-linguists Christine Nicholls (later
principal) and Lee Cataldi. In 1991 the newly appointed teacher-linguist reported
 Samantha Disbray
that the entire non-Indigenous teaching sta were new, and only the recently
arrived principal had experience of bilingual education. e program was sus-
pended that year. In the late 1990s the program was vibrant once again, with the
same dedicated team of Indigenous teachers working with teacher linguist Carmel
O’Shannessy (Lajamanu CEC 1999).
Bilingual programs were always vulnerable, with local-level stang posing the
greatest threat. As previous NT DET regional linguist Robert Hoogenraad writes:
A lack of sanctions and an absence of eective monitoring of what actually
happens in classrooms in daily practice also meant that the classroom teacher
could undermine the bilingual program with impunity, and the principal could
simply not run the bilingual program in the school. (2001: 131)
High non-Indigenous teacher turnover is a feature of remote education delivery.
e relatively small pool of Indigenous sta also meant that programs could be
interrupted when Indigenous teachers were absent undertaking training, caring
for sick family or taking part in “sorry business.5 ese factors made the long-term
commitment and presence of Warlpiri sta, and of committed non- Indigenous
sta, such as Mary Laughren, who worked as the linguist for the Warlpiri schools,
all the more important.
e following sections describe three specic achievements of the Warlpiri–
English bilingual programs. § 3.1 considers teacher training and the development
of a professional network among Warlpiri teachers in the four communities. § 3.2
details Warlpiri literacy development and § 3.3 the development of the Warlpiri
dictionary and the Warlpiri curriculum.
.1  Teacher training and the Warlpiri professional network
e annual reports from teacher-linguists in the bilingual schools from the early
1980s document the rapidly growing Warlpiri teaching force and professional
development programs at Yuendumu, Lajamanu and Willowra (e.g. NTDE 1983).
By this time eight assistant teachers were undertaking training through the newly
created Remote Area Teacher Education (RATE) program based at Batchelor
College, or undertaking linguistics training through the School of Australian
Linguistics. Steve Swartz from the Summer Institute of Linguistics facilitated
workshops in Warlpiri literacy for literacy workers and teacher assistants. Warlpiri
teacher assistants took part in weekly planning sessions with non-Indigenous
sta. Submissions for formal on-site teacher training programs were made, with
.  Mourning rituals, which might last days to months, depending on the relationship between
a person and the deceased.
Evaluating Bilingual Education in Warlpiri schools 
collaborations across the Warlpiri schools. A weekly radio link up took place,
the beginnings of the Warlpiri professional network. By the 1990s, 10 Warlpiri
sta had qualied as teachers, and many more had trained as teaching assistants
through the RATE program, and as literacy workers (Hoogenraad 2001).
Mary Laughren, teacher-linguist for the Warlpiri schools, worked closely with
Warlpiri teachers and teacher assistants in classrooms, and in the cross-school
workshops, which would come to be known as Warlpiri Triangle workshops. e
“two-way” nature of the professional collaboration with Mary is reected on by
Carol Kitson, long-standing teaching assistant of more than 25 years at Willowra
school, who recalls:
Napaljarri [Mary Laughren]6 is very good at working with Warlpiri language.
She was helping all the Yapa [Warlpiri] sta working at the school. She was the
rst lady that taught me to do Warlpiri lessons in the classroom. She worked
with Ya p a7 from all the dierent communities, shes a very helpful and happy
lady, karnuru Napaljarri. My mother knows Napaljarri too. She works with old
ladies, recording Yawulyu [womens ceremony and song], so our children can
know about this too. She was working for a long time at Yuendumu, and came
and supported Willowra too. (pers. comm 2011)
Nancy Oldeld, a fully qualied teacher, has worked at Yuendumu school for over
30 years, 15 of these closely with Mary Laughren. Nancy Oldeld started out as a
literacy worker and recalls Mary Laughren’s role in her early teaching career:
Napaljarri ngula yanurnu Yuendumu kurra 1975. Ngajurlparna nyinaja Yirara
college-rla kuurlurla Ngularna pina yanurnu kuurlu-jangka Yuendumu kurra.
Nyinajarna warrki wangu jintaku year-ku ngurrangka. Ngulajangkaju Napaljarri-
ji wangkaja, “warrki-jarrimilpa literacy centre-rla kuurlurla, ngaju-wana “yuwayi”,
ngajurna wangkaja. Yuwayi ngula karnarla nyampu-juku marlaja warrki-jarrimi-
jiki, Napaljarri-ki.
Kala-rnalu yanu wirlinyi Napaljarri kirli. Kala-pala Napaljarri-jarra-juku
wapaja wirlinyiji, kala wardapiji kilki puraja Napaljarrirliji. Kalaju payurnu
mampu-maninjaku yuwarliki nyanungu nyanguku. Kuja kula pina-pina-jarrija
wangkanjaku Warlpiri-jiki, purda-nyanjarla jarlu-paturla. Kala nganpa pina-
manu plani-maninjaku kurdu-kurdu-ku classroom-rla-ku, Puku kala-rnalu
nguurju-manu, ngulajangkuju kala-rnalu translate-manu English puku Warlpiri
kirra.
.  Napaljarri is a Warlpiri sub-section or “skin” name.
.  Yapa is a Warlpiri self-referential term.
 Samantha Disbray
Napaljarri came to Yuendumu in 1975. I was studying at Yirara College, then when
I nished school, I came back to Yuendumu. I was at home for a year, and didn’t
have a job. en Napaljarri said to me, “Come and work at the school, in the literacy
centre”, and I said, “Yes”. Yes, I still work there thanks to Napaljarri.
e two Napaljarri [Mary Laughren and Nancy Oldeld’s mother] used to go
hunting. She [Mary] knows how to hunt, to dig for goanna, to nd them in burrows.
Sometimes, she asked me to look aer her house. And she learned Warlpiri really
well, to talk Warlpiri language from listening to old people. She taught us about
planning lessons for the children in the classes. And we made books, we translated
English books into Warlpiri. (pers. comm. 2011)
ese recollections illustrate the importance of both professional and personal
relationships between colleagues, and Mary’s knowledge of Warlpiri language and
culture, which exemplies commitment to “two-way” learning.
e early professional development workshops became a regular event in the
1990s, the annual Warlpiri Triangle Workshop.8 In these bilingual and bicultural
workshops, Warlpiri and non-Warlpiri sta, as well as community elders, collabo-
rate on curriculum and resource development, and sta take part in professional
development in teaching methodology. e workshop reports are important
school programming and planning documents. Evaluations by participants at the
2004 Warlpiri Triangle Workshop rated the following aspects as positive:
Participation with Yapa [Indigenous] and Kardiya [non-Indigenous] teachers in
all the professional development activities about Warlpiri teaching; Working with
the NTCF (Northern Territory Curriculum Framework) and understanding the
links between all the Learning Areas and with the Warlpiri Curriculum cycle;
Sharing planning ideas with other schools; Workshops about assessment and
moderation of children’s writing so that we can plan to teach them for continuous
learning [and think] about the levels the children will be at by next year; e
hands-on maths activities. (NTDE 2004: 35)
Unfortunately, the diminished provision of suitable teacher education programs
(Simpson et al. 2009) since the 1990s and the brevity of the mentoring program
have strongly contributed to the lack of a “next generation” of Warlpiri teachers
and teaching assistants and placed considerable strain on those teachers trained in
the 1980s and 1990s. In 2005 the Warlpiri Education and Training Trust (WETT)
was established to use funding received from mining royalties for programs to
improve levels of education and wellbeing in the Warlpiri communities. Many of
.  In the early 2000s the Jinta Jarrimi workshops began, taking place each term. ese are
smaller workshops, designed to provide further professional development and work on goals
set out in the Warlpiri Triangle Workshop.
Evaluating Bilingual Education in Warlpiri schools 
the teachers and assistant teachers involved at the earliest stages of the Warlpiri
bilingual programs are on the governing board for WETT. eir expertise, leader-
ship and engagement, fostered through the bilingual programs in their schools,
is highly valued by the members of WETT. is is a signicant outcome of the
Warlpiri–English bilingual programs.
.  Warlpiri Literacy Production
In 1975 only a handful of books had been printed in Warlpiri. By 1980, there were
over 100 Warlpiri publications, by the mid 1990s over 600, and now over 700,
including community newsletters, which provide a broader function for literacy
outside of the school setting. is output is testament to what was a hugely creative
and optimistic period for Warlpiri people and Warlpiri bilingual education.
Warlpiri materials were produced overwhelmingly at Yuendumu, though also
in the literacy centres at Lajamanu and Willowra schools. e role of Literacy
Worker was developed in schools with bilingual programs to create the literacy
and teaching resources needed for local rst language instruction. It encom-
passed author, transcriber, translator, artist and book producer. e print technol-
ogy, oen heat and dust aected, under-serviced and held together “bush style”,
changed rapidly as Roneo copiers were replaced by oset printing rigs, before the
era of digital production. Many outstanding Warlpiri literacy workers and com-
munity members have been employed in the Warlpiri literacy centres, develop-
ing Warlpiri books and teaching materials, and also community newsletters9 and
other print materials; see, for instance, the exquisite Warlpiri calendars10 of the
early 1980s (Gale 1997, in particular Chapter 4).
In her 1983 report in the Annual Reports of Specialist Sta in Bilingual Schools
Mary Laughren wrote:
Much of my time is spent with literature production – aiding literacy workers
and teaching assistants to improve their reading and writing skills, checking
Warlpiri texts for spelling and punctuation errors, English translations and so
.  Junga Yimi, the Yuendumu community newsletter, first appeared in the 1970s, then again
in and continuously since the early 1980s. Willowra and Lajamanu published their own com-
munity and school newsletters, Wirliyajarrayi ngurrju yimi and Lajamanu Mirawarri, though
more sporadically.
1.  Community-produced calendars seem to have been very popular in the 1980s. Other
literacy production centres in Central Australia also produced them, such as Papunya Literacy
Production Centre and Areyonga Literacy Centre, and received them from other communi-
ties. In 2008 the 1982 Strelley School (Western Australia) Calendar still hung in the Papunya
Literacy Centre.
 Samantha Disbray
forth. Literacy workers are now typing directly into the computer, thus allowing
for the easy editing of texts and the exible layout of books. (NTDE 1983: 62)
Helen Morton, now a teaching assistant at Willowra school, worked with Mary
Laughren as a literacy worker at Yuendumu school. She recalls:
I’ve known Mary since she came to Yuendumu and rst started working with her
at the Literacy Centre in 1975, when I was 15 years old. Wendy [Baarda], Mary
and myself, we were working on transcription, translation and editing to make
books. We worked with elders from Yuendumu, Lajamanu and Willowra.
“Paste-over” books, in which the text in existing books (in English or other
Indigenous languages) was covered over with a piece of paper with Warlpiri text,
were an option for quick book production, as were translations of English books.
However, sta in the Warlpiri schools were committed to producing Warlpiri sto-
ries in Warlpiri language and developing a biliterate and bicultural program, with
texts reecting local knowledge and local experience.11 A very rich and unique
collection resulted. Some of the earliest books were Dreamtime stories. ese
were recorded, transcribed and edited, and accompanied by line-drawn illustra-
tions, using traditional icons, symbols and designs used in body painting and
sand drawing. Titles in this striking style include Juju-kurlu (Napanangka 1981a),
Wirriya-jarra-kurlu (Nungarraryi, A. 1981), Mungalyurrurlu kalu ngapa kardirni
(Napanangka 1981b) and Nyurnu-kurlangu Maliki-kirli (Napanangka 1981c). In
addition, humorous stories, instructional texts on traditional and modern top-
ics, contact histories, phonics teaching resources and primers were produced. For
many stories, songs were developed in schools and workshops. Warlpiri song-
writing and use of songs in classrooms are core parts of the remaining Warlpiri
programs in schools now.12 With access to the rst Osbourne computer,13 texts
could be typed in and added to the corpus for the Warlpiri dictionary project.
11.  While overwhelmingly the Warlpiri collection is original and unique to the Warlpiri
communities, some translated works exist (see NTDE 1983: 25). e “City Kids” series was
translated at Lajamanu and reprinted. Some of these, particularly Kuja Jampijinparlu Larra-
pungu Wintawu (Napaljarri Rose 1985), Papulkami-kirli (Napaljarri Rose 1985), and Yangur-
nungu-kurlu (Nungarrayi Faye Gibson 1985) remain popular today. Also Colin iele’s ‘Storm
Boy’ was translated into Warlpiri at Lajamanu in 1988 by Valerie Patterson, Jennie Hargraves,
Julie Watson, Pansy Rose and others, working with Lee Cataldi and Christine Nicholls. e
Warlpiri and English versions were the course work for the Senior girls’ class. Unfortunately,
the Warlpiri version has not yet been published.
1.  e extensive song collection is in great part thanks to the commitment and coordina-
tion of long-term teacher and teacher linguist at Yuendumu school, Wendy Baarda.
1.  Mary’s personal computer, purchased in 1983 (NTDE 1983: 61).
Evaluating Bilingual Education in Warlpiri schools 
In this way, the creation of books contributed to a larger collection of Warlpiri
language and knowledge.
While working in literature production and supporting Warlpiri teachers were
key parts of Mary Laughren’s work, she also undertook linguistic research, compil-
ing an encyclopaedic Warlpiri dictionary (Laughren & Nash 1983). Much of this
was in her own time, stints of leave without pay and long-service leave, sometimes
with grants monies through the National Science Fund (USA).
.  Warlpiri dictionary project and the development
of Warlpiri curriculum
Work on the Warlpiri–English dictionary began in the late 1970s. In 1983, three
dra sections of the Warlpiri dictionary were complete: verbs, body part domain,
and fauna domain (Laughren & Hale 1983). In addition, work on the ora section
was underway and Mary Laughren had carried out extensive preparation on the
kinship and spatial/quantitative domains. In the 1980s and 1990s various seman-
tic domains within the dictionary were published (Warlpiri Lexicography Group
1985a, 1985b, 1986; Laughren 1992a, 1992b). e research was still underway
when Mary Laughren wrote her nal report in 1992 (NTDE, 1995: 54).
Dictionary research and curriculum development were inextricably linked.
Research into the spatial and quantitative domains was informed by, and fed
into, the development of maths teaching and learning in the Warlpiri schools. In
the 1980s and 1990s Warlpiri educators and community members took part in
a number of workshops to develop maths concepts in Warlpiri. e rst work-
shop was held in 1984 at Willowra, resulting in the publication Pipa Nyampuju
Nampapinkikirli manu Nyajangukurlu: Bilingual Warlpiri-English Mathematics
Book (Warlpiri Literature Production Centre, 1984). Further material generated
in the 1985 (at Willowra) and 1986 (at Yuendumu) workshops is documented
in Karlarlakari-karlarlakari-kirli: Kujarnalu Yirri-Yuraja Manu Yirrarnu Nyur-
ruwiyi Turnu-jarrinjarla Wirliyarrayirla manu Yurntumurla (Warlpiri Triangle
Mathematics Workshops, 1987). In 1989 Lajamanu school sta Julie Watson
Nungarrayi, Valerie Patterson Napanangka, Gracie White Napaljarri, Fiona
Granites Napurrurla, Kinjipi James Napangardi and Barbara Tasman Napurrurla,
with support from Mary Laughren and Lee Cataldi, translated the Rigby Maths
Series Book 1 into Warlpiri.
rough her collaborations with MIT, Mary Laughren was aware of the great
potential computers oered for dictionary making and dictionary use (see NTDE
1983: 61), and already in 1989 she was proposing:
an electronic form of the dictionary which [the students in Warlpiri schools]
could interrogate in Warlpiri, through the interface of various menus and
 Samantha Disbray
search routes. I am trying to raise some funding to pay a person to help me to
do this in 1990. More and more computers are coming into Warlpiri schools, so
having access to the electronic form of the dictionary would be a real advantage.
(NTDE 1990: 85)
By the late 1990s the electronic interface for the Warlpiri–English dictionary,
Kirrkirr (developed collaboratively by Mary Laughren, Christopher Manning,
Kevin Jansz, Nitin Indurkhya, Jane Simpson and other colleagues (see Jansz
et al.1999; Jansz et al. 2000)), came into use in Warlpiri communities. It is the
largest machine-readable dictionary in any Australian language (Corris et al.
2000). e interface for browsing the dictionary is innovative and extremely
user-friendly, with headword search functions, but also an alphabetical word
list (English or Warlpiri) on the screen, coloured networks of related words,
groupings by domain, sound and image les.
e culmination of this extensive documentation project is the Warlpiri
English Encyclopaedic Dictionary. is is among the most signicant achievements
of the Warlpiri bilingual program, the product of a long collaboration between
Mary Laughren and her many Warlpiri and non-Warlpiri colleagues. e printed
version totals over 1,500 pages, with some 10,000 headwords, including suben-
tries. Entries are marked for domain, according to Warlpiri semantic classication,
grammatical class, synonyms, antonyms, and have extensive example texts, rich in
cultural, ecological and historical knowledge.
While the master le and the electronic dictionary are genuinely innovative,
so too is the development process of the dictionary. is process took place in tan-
dem with the development of literature and curriculum to resource the bilingual
programs (as mentioned above). Mary Laughren explained the relationship
between the Warlpiri dictionary project, then in its early phase, and the develop-
ment of Warlpiri curriculum in the bilingual and bicultural programs in Warlpiri
schools in her 1983 report:
Since the dictionary entries give a lot of information about each word – grammatical
category, semantic domain, denition of meaning, range of meanings, English
glosses, idioms in which the word is used, synonyms, antonyms, words of similar
meanings, many example sentences as well as the English glosses, I believe that
it provides teachers and others with a most valuable source of information on
which to draw for curriculum development. Entries from fauna, for example,
contain oral essays composed by Warlpiri people describing the animal in
question – its appearance, habitat, behaviour, whether edible or not, how it is
prepared for human consumption, ritual aliation. Animals are compared and
contrasted with other animals of a similar kind. Warlpiri classication is clearly
indicated in the dictionary entries. (NTDE 1983: 62)
Evaluating Bilingual Education in Warlpiri schools 1
e Warlpiri – English dictionary was developed to reect Warlpiri semantic
classications and domains, which are reected in the curriculum developed
by Warlpiri educators. e Warlpiri curriculum document Warlpirikirlangu
Pina-Maninjaku (NTDE 1987), draed for SACE Accreditation (South Australian
Certicate of Education) in 1987, was based around domains or themes, including
kin, ceremony, edible plants, (meat) animals, the human body, and country. Such
knowledge was identied by Warlpiri educators as the knowledge that Warlpiri
children should obtain through schooling, and this remains the same today. e
theme areas are elaborated in Warlpiri Language and Culture Curriculum: A Lan-
guage and Culture Course for Boys and Girls of School Age (NTDE 1989) and in
the current Warlpiri Curriculum Cycle.14 Further development of the curriculum
cycle and planning based on it continues to take place at each Warlpiri Triangle
Workshop.
Gracie White, a Warlpiri teacher still working at Lajamanu school, writes:
Ngajululu kula karna milyapinyi nyangurla ngularna nyangu Napaljarri kala
nyurruwiyi-nyayirni. Kala warrki-jarrija Yapa-tija-wati-kirli murntupala kuurlu-
jangka-kurlu. Kalarnalu warrkijarrija maths workshop-watirla ngulalparnalu pina-
jarrija RATE program-rla. Milyapinya karna kuja kalarnalu yanu ALI [Aboriginal
Languages Institute] conference-kirra kujarra yiyarla kala karrija, ngulajulpa
Napaljarri-langurlu jungarni-manu ngulaku-ngarnti. Napaljarrrili ngurrrju-manu
Warlpiri-English dictionary-rlangu watiya-kurlu manu Kirrkirr, ngulaju ngurrju-
nyayirni. Panu nyayirni nyiya-kanti-kantilpa jungarnimanu manu ngurrju-manu
Yapaku Yurntumu-rlangurla, kulpari yungujana community-ki.
I can’t remember what year it was when I met Mary Laughren, but it was a long
time ago. She used to work with the Yapa teachers from the four (Warlpiri) schools,
at maths workshops and at the RATE [Remote Area Teacher Education] program.
I remember going to the ALI. [Australian Language Institute] conferences, that ran
every two years, that Mary organised. She also worked on the Warlpiri–English
dictionary on themes such as plants and Kirrkirr (the electronic dictionary), which
is really good. She did lots of good work with Yapa people, especially at Yuendumu
and she gave the work back to the community. (pers. comm. 2011)
1.  e current Warlpiri Curriculum Cycle, a three-year, cross-level cycle, organises the
program into twelve themes: Ngapa – Wa te r, Wa ti ya – Plants, Jurnarrpa – Man-made things,
Yawulyu/Purlapa – Ceremony, Palka – the Body, Warlarlja – Family, Kuyu – (meat) Animals,
Jaru/Rdaka-Rdaka – Language, Communication & Hand Signs, Jukkurpa/Kurruwarri – Stories,
Nyurru-wiyi – History, Ngurra/Walya – Country & Land, Miy i – (plant) Food.
 Samantha Disbray
is section has sought to illustrate the remarkable creativity, educational
engagement and innovation of the Warlpiri–English bilingual programs. It has
detailed three areas, which, following Silburn et al. (2011) belong to a full evalu-
ation of the program. ese include teacher education, community involvement,
the establishment of the Warlpiri Education and Training Trust and literacy
resource and curriculum development, including the Warlpiri–English diction-
ary. e “two-way” nature of the collaboration between Warlpiri colleagues and
non-Warlpiri colleagues, in particular linguist Mary Laughren, has also been
highlighted, and this has underpinned the achievements discussed.
4. A Final wind back?
Warlpiri have continuously advocated to teach their children in and through their
own language and culture. eir goals clear, they have worked to gather the exper-
tise and resources they need to achieve this. However, only one part of the out-
comes they have valued, success in English literacy and numeracy, is featured in
government evaluations of the bilingual programs. Despite problems with data
and interpretations of it, this focus has won out. What the future role of Indig-
enous languages in education might be is yet unknown, but is likely to be decided
in the political rather than education sphere.
Brian Devlin, Principal Education Ocer for the Bilingual Education
Programs, addressing Program sta in 1986, gives a sense of the political nature
of this education work in responding to the stang cuts and budgetary pressures
of the time:
What is perplexing is although the Department [NTDE] is rmly and publically
committed to the continuation of Bilingual education, the system does not
always operate in the most supportive or responsive way […] So what do we
do when we face a restriction of funds, resources and personnel and program
appears to be jeopardized? ere seems to be two extremes, neither of which
I’m particularly in favour. One is to cry “this is the end of the bilingual program
and walk o the job or take it to the streets. e other is to wring our hands and
say, a little pathetically, “we have no choice but to accept the situation. What
Iam suggesting here is that all eld ocers need to accept that the battle oen
demands considerable reserves of patience, energy, intelligence and stamina. You
have to write letters, submissions, reports and recommendations. People have to
be talked to, meetings have to be attended, and senior ocers convinced. Arms
have to be twisted. But these eorts are worth it. (NTDE 1986b: 2)
is quote strikes a chord. At a meeting between senior NTDE ocers and
Warlpiri school sta during the 2011 Warlpiri Triangle Workshop, Warlpiri
Evaluating Bilingual Education in Warlpiri schools 
sta were still seeking to nd a way through the 2008 “rst four hours English
decree, which had eectively put an end to the bilingual programs. Aerwards,
in response to my frustration, as the then NTDE linguist, at the (lack of) outcome
from the meeting, Mary Laughren’s advice was that you have to be like water on
a stone: keep on talking, keep on arguing, keep ghting – something else she
learned from Warlpiri.
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  • ... Given this rather subtle distinction, the terms culture-based education and culturally responsive pedagogy are sometimes used interchangeably without further qualification (see, for example, Brayboy & Castagno 2009;Nicol et al. 2010;Reyhner & Singh 2013). In Australia, successful bilingual culture-based educational programmes have been conducted in remote and very remote Aboriginal community-controlled schools, where they are often called 'both-ways' or 'two-ways' programmes (see, for example, Disbray 2014;Yunupiŋgu 1989). ...
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