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Development of a curriculum for Victorian Aboriginal Languages

In 2008, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) commissioned the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages (VACL) to carry out a consultation with Victorian Aboriginal people across the state; 91% of community members responded that Aboriginal Languages and cultures should be taught in Prep to Year 10 classes.

Following the consultation, the VCAA, in collaboration with the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc (VAEAI) and VACL, designed and accredited a curriculum document entitled Aboriginal Languages, Cultures and Reclamation in Victorian Schools: standards P-10 and protocols. In 2016, this document was superseded by the Victorian Curriculum Foundation-10: Victorian Aboriginal Languages curriculum, which contains protocols and standards that outline important conditions for the delivery of the subject.

What are the Protocols?

The protocols for setting up and running an Aboriginal Language program in schools are based on the findings of the 2008 community consultation and the national consultation for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA’s) 2015 Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages. In Victoria, they are supplemented by the Department of Education and Training’s (DET) Teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture (Koorie Cross-Curricular Protocols for Victorian Government Schools) and VAEAI’s Protocols for Koorie Education in Victorian Primary and Secondary Schools. The protocols encourage respect and trust between Aboriginal communities and schools. A school should not commence Aboriginal Language classes without agreement and support from local Aboriginal people, the Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (LAECG) and/or Traditional Owners.

Good communication between schools and Victorian Aboriginal Communities is crucial to the success of Aboriginal Language programs in schools. It is important that everyone understands that Aboriginal communities have protocols that Aboriginal people must follow, just as schools have DET protocols that they must follow.

Aboriginal Language programs have different needs to other language programs, because Aboriginal Languages are not used for everyday purposes, and each is at a different stage of revival. There are very few books or teaching materials available for most Victorian Aboriginal Languages.

The protocols acknowledge that Aboriginal communities need to make many decisions about reclaiming and reviving their Language – such as pronunciation, writing and spelling, how/whether to fill the gaps in known or recorded Language, and how/whether to develop Language for use today. These are decisions that cannot be made by schools.

The protocols require:

  • Consultation between Aboriginal communities and schools, for example, to decide which Aboriginal Language/s to teach in the school
  • Development of a Language Team
  • Maintenance of the Language program
  • Training and support for the Language Team

Please note that cultural and intellectual copyright remains with the local Aboriginal communities when any material contributed by a member of the community is used in developing resources to support the delivery of the school Language program. Material contributed by Aboriginal community members for the purposes of the school Language program should not be used by schools, teachers or consultants involved in the school Language program for any other purpose, without express permission of the community.

What is the Victorian Curriculum F-10: Victorian Aboriginal Languages?

This is a document that outlines what students need to learn about Victorian Aboriginal Languages as they progress through school. It is written in the same format as material relating to all of the other subjects taught in schools. For a detailed explanation of the new Victorian Curriculum and the terminology used therein, see the VCAA’s Victorian Curriculum Overview.

In relation to what students will learn, the three important terms are achievement standards, content descriptions and elaborations.

The achievement standards for Victorian Aboriginal Languages describe what students should be able to understand and do by the end of a given level, eg Level 2. The content descriptions for Victorian Aboriginal Languages explain what has to be taught to the students between levels, eg Levels F-2.

Each sentence in the achievement standard relates to content descriptions, for example, the achievement standard

Students learn about Country/Place and community by interacting with respected community members…,

(what the students must be able to do) relates to the content description

Interact with each other, the teaching team and visiting respected community members, using language and gestures to greet and talk about self and family
(what the teacher needs to teach the students to do).

Achievement standards and content descriptions are mandated aspects of the curriculum.

Elaborations are suggestions about the way the content description might be taught. These are not mandatory, they are completely optional. The elaborations relating to the content description above are:

  • participating in everyday exchanges, such as greeting and leave taking
  • interacting with the teaching team and visiting respected community members and community speakers, using appropriate protocols such as respect terms, behaviour and forms of address
  • introducing and describing self, family, friends, favourite objects and pets, using familiar and modelled language, supported by visual props such as drawings, photos
  • listening to questions (such as what, who, where) about self, family, friends and immediate environment and responding with words and actions, including gesture

If you would like to see what the VCAA’s Victorian Curriculum F-10 – Victorian Aboriginal Languages  curriculum contains, click on the link.