High-tech classrooms revive Aboriginal languages

Updated 24 December 2012
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High-tech classrooms revive Aboriginal languages

In a high-school classroom in western Sydney, teacher Noeleen Lumby is asking her pupils to recall the Aboriginal name for animals that indigenous Wiradjuri people have used for hundreds of years.
As she holds up stuffed toys representing some of Australia’s native wildlife, including a kangaroo, an emu and a cockatoo, the class of about 25 — many from Vietnamese and Cambodian backgrounds — come to grips with the ancient tongue.
“I like this because you get to learn new skills and you can speak some indigenous language,” said 12-year-old Tien Nguyen.
Lumby, who oversees the students as they use their new knowledge to create projects on computers and iPads, is passionate about filling a gaping hole in Australian education — the study of Aboriginal languages.
“I think it’s important that the kids learn language and culture at the same time,” she told AFP.
“And because most of the students that I teach are non-Aboriginal, we look at culture across the whole of Australia and look at the diversity of culture.”
Only a small handful of the 1,110 students at St. John’s Park High School are indigenous, but for Lumby one of the joys of teaching is when students were “talking in language with me.”
Australia’s Aborigines once spoke 250 to 270 different languages but best estimates now suggest less than 70 are still being spoken on a daily basis, with even fewer passed on to younger generations.
“We’re losing languages as we speak because kids are increasingly not learning their parents’ language or languages; they are learning a form of Aboriginal English,” said Sydney University lecturer John Hobson.
“Australia is kind of close to holding the world record for the extinction of indigenous languages; we haven’t just wiped out the mammals, we’re doing pretty well on indigenous heritage as well.”
Hobson said that while a small number of schools in remote Aboriginal areas held classes in indigenous languages, by and large the language of instruction in Australia — settled by the British more than 200 years ago — is English.
Although indigenous language teaching is undergoing a revival, many Aboriginal communities are geographically isolated making it a struggle for those working to keep such languages alive.
A crucial problem is the lack of resources — both in terms of text books and resources as well as teachers.
Hobson, who in 2006 began a masters course instructing teachers how to teach their own indigenous languages in schools, said in many cases his students created the resources they needed for the classroom.
“Our gang have to start from scratch for pretty much everything. They have to produce their own,” he said, adding it was a far cry from the French or Mandarin teacher who could easily access dictionaries and other resources.
Hobson said his students were mostly teachers from an indigenous background who were involved in the revitalization movement.
“Some of them would have ambitions to restore those languages to vernacular use... but others would be simply working, at this stage anyway, on having language back as a badge of honor,” he said.
The revival movement is making some progress; some languages which would have once been referred to as “extinct” are now more likely to be seen as “sleeping.”
“We’d like to think that people could restore languages to full use,” Hobson said.
“But even if they do, one of the issues that invariably has to be dealt with is the fact that the records of the language either in living memory or in recordings or paper records... are not complete.
“So people would need to embrace the idea of reconstruction... which you might think of in terms of some language engineering.”
Hobson sees the course he offers, believed to be the only one of its kind in Australia, as a “kind of stop-gap measure” to try and build a supply of trained teachers to keep up with demand.
“The underlying issue is that Aboriginal people do want to bring their languages back ... people increasingly talk about how to reawaken their language,” he said.
Jodi Edwards, one of the masters students in Hobson’s class, is one such person.
“Your own language is a part of your soul, it’s a part of who you are and to not have your language is to not have your right arm,” she said.

 


WWE stars soften up to Jeddah children to introduce anti-bullying campaign

Updated 25 April 2018
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WWE stars soften up to Jeddah children to introduce anti-bullying campaign

  • Al-Oula is a non-profit organization targeted to break the cycle of poverty
  • WWE stars sat down in front of 30 students from the institution

Jeddah: The children of Al-Oula –- a non-profit organization targeted to break the cycle of poverty –- had the most thrilling school trip as they came to see World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstars Mojo Rawley and Mark Henry in King Abdullah stadium on Tuesday.
The stars sat down in front of 30 students from the institution and softened up as they shared stories from their childhood and introduced their anti-bullying campaign “Be a Star.”
The stars shared personal stories and the difficulties they have faced.
Dean Muhtadi, 31, better known by his ring name Mojo Rawley, told the children: “We are different in many ways but sometimes you have to focus on the similarities and positive aspects of others.”
Mark Henry, 46, opened up about his past: “When I was young people would call me names and were mean to me, so I decided to become the strongest person in the world.
“I won three world championships in three different world countries that had nothing to do with each other and I am very proud of myself for not letting the mean comments get to my head.”
Henry was world heavyweight champion, and is also a two-time Olympian and a gold medalist at the Pan American Games.
Later the children had the chance to talk directly with the stars. Rawley is originally Palestinian, so he spoke in Arabic with some of the children.
Henry told one of the students: “If someone is troubling you, don’t give them the satisfaction of letting the comments or actions affect you, and immediately tell your teacher or your parents or any adult, and they will help you through your problems.”
The children then took pictures and were given tickets to the WWE Royal Rumble show on Friday.
“Jeddah is a very family-friendly and a culture-loving city, so I love being here,” Henry told Arab News. “The only difference is the language. Apart from that everyone is very nice and warm.”
On the Royal Rumble, he said: “Get ready for the best entertainment you have ever seen with your own eyes.”
“For someone who comes from an Arab background, this is a historic achievement and it will be remembered for ever,” Rawley said in an interview with Arab News.
“When I first found out that we agreed to a ten-year partnership, it was the coolest thing to find out.
“I am very fortunate to be a part of this long-term partnership which will give the citizens a long time to understand and give us enough time to develop our brand here in Saudi Arabia.
“Last year the show in Riyadh was a small, non-televised show but it was one of the coolest experiences of my life, so I am very excited to perform in this grand-scale show. It’s going to be an amazing show. It will rival Wrestle Mania, which is the biggest event of the year.”
Jana Marwan, a nine-year-old student, said: “Everyone told us that the wrestlers were scary but they weren’t. In fact they were very friendly. They taught us how to look out for ourselves and I had so much fun. I am thankful to them.”