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Malparara: A Partnership of Friends When Teaching Indigenous Languages

By Janet Armitage
 | Aug 15, 2022
Malparara_680w

Across the Oceanic region, Indigenous languages are being preserved and revitalised by people within local communities in partnership with schools. In remote central Australia, teachers arrive not knowing the local languages and, with a high turnover of teaching staff, they often leave within 18 months. How then can local Pitjantjatjara-speaking education staff, with many years of employment at the local school, ensure that their language, mainly Pitjantjatjara, is maintained, preserved, and taught in schools?

Setting the stage

This video explains some of the colonial history of language in education on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in northwest South Australia as a way of setting the scene of the systemic responses to language in education. The historical context of a strong era of bilingual education makes it even more surprising that education in the 21st century is English as Medium of Instruction or English-only instruction in these schools where students have very little contact with speakers of English other than their teachers and other service providers.

When teachers stay long enough to develop friendships and strong understandings of the importance of bilingual education, classrooms can become lively places of sharing knowledge, power, and the teaching role. The case study in above video exemplifies the possibilities of working together as friends in a malparara partnership where two people accompany each other in the classroom work of teaching language and teaching through their respective languages to support student understanding.

As principal of Pipalyatjara Anangu School in 2021, I became aware of the rare partnerships created at times in classrooms when teachers stay a long time and create strong personal connections with Anangu colleagues and their families. As part of an action research project in Culturally Responsive Pedagogy with the University of South Australia, I began observing the responses of students in classrooms when teaching partnerships developed.

Malparara

Asking Anangu colleagues how to describe this they told me malparara, sometimes translated as teamwork, but most specifically as pairs of friends who accompany each other.

Professional friendships develop when parity is encouraged in teaching roles, not when the Piranpa teacher does the “teaching” and the Anangu teacher does the behaviour management. There is no real equity in this type of arrangement, common as it may be in APY Lands schools. However, when forms of knowledge, languages and cultures are given parity in the pair of teachers, a malparara approach may develop.

In the above video, Emily becomes the main teacher when teaching writing in Pitjantjatjara, her teaching malpa (friend) takes the quieter role in supporting reading in English. The roles become mutually supportive in a malparara approach that quite naturally developed over time and trust.

 

Find out more about how educators can preserve indigenous language by attending the free online event Preserving & Revitalising Indigenous Languages: Stories From the Oceanic Regionon August 16.

 

Janet Armitage an educator working with local educators in the APY Lands in Central Australia. She will be one of the presenters for the International Development Oceania Committee online seminar Preserving & Revitalising Indigenous Languages: Stories From the Oceanic Region.

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