In April this year, I attended a symposium at Charles Darwin University (CDU) called the Kids Creoles and Classrooms Symposium; my first symposium since moving to Darwin at the beginning of the year.
The symposium was predominantly about languages (obviously) exploring connections between Traditional languages, Creoles and Aboriginal English and how you would value and use these languages in the classroom. There were also two presentations about the teaching and learning of mathematics and the use of Creoles and Traditional language.
The first thing I learnt was that linguists have shown that the structure of Aboriginal English is the same as the Traditional language it is derived from. This was a revelation for me since Aboriginal English, through my experience, is generally denigrated as not being proper i.e. a bad English and now for the first time Aboriginal English is part of our resilience and survival in the face of colonisation. This type of resilience reminds me of the Yarrabah Community in North Queensland who are attempting to get their Creole recognised as a separate language. The spectrum of languages needs to be valued, particularly by the education system, as an important part of our identity and culture.
The second thing I learnt was how strongly some non-Aboriginal people believe that Aboriginal people had no form of mathematics. In one of the sessions were three Senior Aboriginal Women, Hilda Ngalmi, Josephine Numamurdirdi and Faye Manggurra, who work extensively with the school in their Community Numbulwar. Hilda, Josephine and Faye presented a place value activity. During the activity, the Women spoke only in their language, which was a combination of their traditional language and their creole. After the activity, an interesting question was raised about the language around “a half” since the activity did involve halving a rope to find the position for certain numbers. The question was “What is the language you used for a half?”. There was an immediate audience response like an audible mumble of “It must be creole”; however, the response from the women was “It is a word from their traditional language”. Individuals in the audience then asked, “are you sure it’s not creole”, which the women calmly responded, “no it is our traditional language”. This extra enquiry happened twice so in total the woman had to say “no it is our traditional language” three times. I was left wondering whether individuals in the audience still didn’t believe them.
There is a very strong belief that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures have no connection to mathematics; a belief held by educators and researchers. Harris' paper in the 80s attempted to dispel this myth and I think it is timely to revisit this paper. To get to Harris paper click on the blue text above which will get you to the enthomathematic site at AIATSIS. Scroll down to the first Harris paper titled "Australian Aboriginal and Islander mathematics". You may wish to browse further than this one paper.
Please let me know what you think. Apologies for being so slack at blogging. I will attempt to blog more regularly.