3 December 2019
Just over two years ago, Mossman State School’s quest to close the gap between its Indigenous and non-Indigenous student attendance, engagement and achievement led to an organic, grassroots 18-month consultation process with the Kuku Yalanji Elders, to bring the local Aboriginal language, Kuku Yalanji, to the school.
This process saw the establishment of the Kuku Yalanji Language Advisory Group and signing of a historic language agreement between the school and the Kuku Yalanji people.
To bring the co-designed language program to life, Mossman State School applied for and received funding through the Fair Education Queensland program.
The new language program commenced in Term 4 2018, with the Prep to Year 3 students being taught one day a week by a Kuku Yalanji teacher, supported by a Kuku Yalanji Elder. This year, the program expanded to include Year 4 students.
Mossman State School Head of Teaching and Learning, Sharon Case, shared with us the importance of the program.
There are several funding programs out there. What attracted you to apply for a Fair Education grant?
As our Kuku Yalanji language program is an addition to our existing languages curriculum offering (i.e. Japanese is taught in Years 5 and 6), our school needed to be able to seek additional funding outside of Education Queensland’s traditional allocation model. When we heard about Fair Education, we went online to find out more, and it really spoke to us. It was the perfect fit for the school and our community in that it brought fairness and equity into our school. Fair Education was completely aligned philosophically and practically with what we had in mind for our language program – connecting and co-designing something special with community, to benefit our students.
Once we met with the Fair Education Queensland team during our interview, we knew this partnership would be more than financial support, with an ongoing mentoring and coaching focus.
What are the most critical results you’re currently seeing?
This level of community engagement is a first for our school and the results have been so multifaceted. If we had fast tracked those 18 months of consultation, there’s no way we’d be where we are now. We wouldn’t have had the buy-in and the platform of collective efficacy from our community.
We now have a successful Indigenous language program that is completely aligned with the Australian curriculum, our school’s pedagogical framework, and improvement and strategic agenda, which gives the program validity and sustainability and gives our Indigenous families a voice.
It’s changing our students’ lives and rebuilding their cultural identity. Our Kuku Yalanji students know we value and want to understand their heritage and culture.
Our non-Indigenous students are also taking their learnings home to share with their families, and staff have really embraced learning the language as well.
The Kuku Yalanji Language Advisory Group meets at our school about 2-3 times a term, to discuss the program and proofread all our resources, maintaining the momentum of community engagement and consultation.
There has been a change in perception of our school, within the school gate, local community and state, and Mossman State is now a school of choice. We have non-Indigenous families bringing their kids to our school so that they can be part of our language program. Our student enrolment has increased from 220 to nearly 250. Student attendance and engagement is on the rise and this is flowing into other subjects.
This is what reconciliation looks like!
How do you see the program evolving?
Next year, we would like to expand the language program to Years 5 and 6. We just need to find the right teacher.
We have also developed an app to share our program and learnings with students, teachers and schools beyond our community. While they are written specifically for the Kuku Yalanji language, the format and structure can be used as a basis for any Indigenous language teaching.
We’re futureproofing our kids. We want to see them teach the language to their families, friends and communities, go on to university and eventually, teach the language to new students – preserving the culture for generations to come.
Your program has received a Queensland Reconciliation Award and a Showcase Award for Excellence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education. What impact has this recognition had on your community?
While we don’t do this for the accolades, they have given us and our community the chance to celebrate, which doesn’t always happen. It recognises and validates the hard work of the school and community. We’ve had people from several schools across the country visit our tiny town in Far North Queensland, which makes us feel that our language program is part of something bigger. How great would it be to have an Indigenous language program in every school in Australia?
“I think learning Kuku Yalanji has helped me understand how important the culture is and how we should respect the culture, language and land.”
“I like it because my heart feels light when I talk my language.”
You can read the full 2019 Annual Review here.