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Recommendation 3: Australian governments support the teaching of First Nations languages in the new system, through a new national Language of Instruction policy.


The MK Turner Report is a landmark report, created by the cultural authority of Utyerre Apanpe network and Children’s Ground. It establishes a plan for a First Nations-led and designed education reform in Australia, privileging an approach entitled Apmerengentyele, the Arrernte concept of ‘world view.’ 

Apmerengentyele is a sophisticated system of knowledge and practice that underpins an Arrernte person’s world view – (Arrernte is a First Nations language group of Central Australia. While each First Nation has its own language and culture for their own system of knowledge and practice, each one shares knowledge, ways of knowing, values, and a common practice. 

In this series, we explore and further articulate the recommendations of the MK Turner Report to consider how they can be implemented. The Report’s third recommendation is that Australian governments support the teaching of First Nations languages in the new system, through a new national Language of Instruction (LoI) policy. 

What is a Language of Instruction policy?

A Language of Instruction (LoI) policy protects and implements education in a student’s first language. In Australia, implementing a nationwide Language of Instruction policy will enable First Nations children to grow up learning in their First Language. 

Globally, First Nations people are working tirelessly to take control of the education of their children. Some countries have made structural changes in their education systems to enable Indigenous first language education. Australia is well behind other countries, such as Hawaii and Aotearoa/New Zealand, where First Nations led education systems have evolved over the past fifty years. 

“When children are first taught in a language that they speak and understand well they learn more, are better placed to learn other languages, are more likely to stay in school, and enjoy a school experience appropriate to their culture and local circumstances.” – Loud and Clear, The World Bank 2021

Why is a Language of Instruction policy important?

A student’s language and culture are critical to their educational success. The World Bank’s report Loud and Clear: Effective Language of Instruction Policies for Learning, finds that poor Language of Instruction policies harm learning, access, equity, cost-effectiveness, and inclusion. Conversely, children educated in their first language and through their first culture are more engaged, perform better and are set up for success (World Bank, 2021).  

Language and culture are also intimately connected. Languages hold knowledge systems that are unique to the holders of that language. It is widely known that with the loss of languages, we are losing significant expertise. 

“Languages around the world continue to disappear at alarming rates. Many of those are indigenous languages, which represent peoples’ identities, cultures and complex systems of knowledge developed and accumulated over thousands of years. When peoples’ freedom to use their language is not guaranteed, this limits their freedom of thought, freedom of opinion and expression, including artistic expression, as well as their access to education, health and information, justice, decent employment, their participation in cultural life, and other rights.” (World Bank, Year) 

What does a good Language of Instruction policy look like in Australia?

The World Bank states that a strong Language of Instruction policy has a few key aspects: 

  •  A strong understanding of the amount, status, and use of languages. 
  • A standardised orthography (the way that oral languages are written down) when there are only a few speakers of a language.  
  • Quality learning and teaching materials, lesson plans and instruction to support learning 
  • ‘Academic vocabulary’ development for certain school subjects (e.g., mathematics). 
  • Effective communication strategies to enable the cooperation of all stakeholder groups, such as Ministers, Departments, community, and teaching and curriculum bodies. 

The government can develop a Language of Instruction policy that follows the World Bank structure in partnership with Utyerre Apanpe, the First Nations Educators Network (see our blog post on that here), and other First language leaders.  

In Australia, a strong Language of Instruction policy will be authorised by Elders with First Language authority. It will articulate the rights of children to learn through their First Languages, starting with early childhood education. The Government will support the policy through resourcing for First Nations culturally led and designed education, language, and literacy centres. Government will invest resources to develop comprehensive learning and teaching materials relevant to the learner, culture, and community. Such a policy will also be consistent with all recommendations of the MK Turner Report. 

What will be the outcomes of Australian governments supporting a national Language of Instruction policy?

A Language of Instruction policy will affirm First Nations children’s right to access and learn in their First Language across all learning areas. Children will be less likely to drop out or repeat grades and their overall learning will improve. Evidence from the World Bank (need citation) suggests that these children will also be more successful in learning a second language, such as English. 

What can you do to support this core recommendation of the MK Turner Report?