The policy framework for bilingual education in Australian Indigenous languages in the Northern Territory

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Title

History of bilingual education in the Northern Territory: People, programs and policies


Springer, Singapore


School of Arts and Humanities / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology, Education and Communications




McKay, G. (2017). The policy framework for bilingual education in Australian Indigenous languages in the Northern Territory. In B. Devlin, S. Disbray & N. R. F. Devlin (Eds.), History of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory: People, Programs and Policies (pp. 85-99). Springer, Singapore. Available here


In 1972 the Australian Government initiated a program of bilingual education in selected Aboriginal schools in the Northern Territory, with the principal aim of recognising and supporting the culture and language of the children and communities who speak those languages, as well as the aim of teaching English as a second language for wider use within the Australian society. These school Indigenous bilingual programs, despite their relatively small size, their remoteness, and their diversity, were shown to be a success both educationally and in strengthening the links between schools and their communities. From the beginning both maintenance and transfer aims were being fulfilled. But over the years a succession of changes in policy priorities at both national and Territory level, coupled with a pattern of ignoring relevant research, put the survival of these programs in jeopardy. The demonstrated potential of these programs to achieve the “best of both worlds” for children who grow up speaking Indigenous languages has been sacrificed to the simplistic nationalism of the power of English. This has been done to the probable educational detriment of Indigenous children and of the English language skills of these children. This triumph of politics and “common sense” over research is not without parallels.



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