Musical staff

Students, staff and parents embrace the Ngarrindjeri language and culture at Renmark High School

A new Ngarrindjeri language and culture program run by Aboriginal staff in South Australia’s Riverland has proven hugely popular with students and parents.

Indigenous workers at Renmark High School have worked with elders and their communities to create a class that is both graded and taught using culturally accurate methods.

Daniel Giles, a man from Ngintait Nganguruku Yankunytjatjara, has worked at the school for years and said students are showing a growing interest in connecting with local indigenous culture.

“I was surprised we got so much interest,” Mr Giles said.

“The students appreciated our teaching methods, because they are different, they are much more practical.

“These things are present in the way we teach the classroom, because in our culture we teach languages ​​very differently, so it’s not really written, it’s spoken a lot, body language, tone, what kind of stuff.”

The course was originally intended to be offered to 8th and 9th graders, but due to high enrollment it has been capped and only 8th graders can attend this year.

Renmark High School teachers Daniel Giles and Martine Turnbull, principal Mat Evans and teacher Chloe Shorrock helped develop the Ngarrindjeri language program.(ABC Riverland: Victor Petrovic)

“teaching” culture

The course “Indigenous Languages ​​and Culture” is taught as part of the language program, as would French and Greek.

Students learn Ngarrindjeri words, their context and pronunciation, as well as cultural facts, stories and lessons about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

Students are regularly visited by local elder Uncle Barney, who shares stories, knowledge and traditional music.

Mr. Giles sets the content of the class and leads the teaching of the Ngarrindjeri language, with input from Uncle Barney and other members of the local community.

Three male 8th graders match flash cards to their photos.
The students were enthusiastic about the class and can already associate several Ngarrindjeri words with their corresponding flash cards.(ABC Riverland: Victor Petrovic)

The teacher Martine Turnbull then helps to plan the lessons.

“They tell me the things that are important, that they want students to learn, and then I, as Daniel says, ‘teach’ them,” Ms Turnbull said.

“And so my experience comes into play to make this a good lesson that is well balanced, engaging and engaging for all children, and of course forms an assessment as well.”

Ngarrindjeri is not a native language of the Riverland region, but it is the main language spoken by the locals.

Mr Giles said people like him and Uncle Barney did not grow up speaking Ngarrindjeri and are not experts but pass on what they know to students to help reinforce engagement with language and culture.

To look forward

Mr. Giles and Mrs. Turnbull are hopeful that the class will continue to grow.

“We interviewed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and what came out so clearly was that they wanted more of their culture to be taught in schools,” Ms Turnbull said.

“Over the years, many parents have asked why students continue to learn French or German, when they never get the chance to learn their own language.

“Parents tell us that their students come home and tell them things they’ve learned and things they’ve been through.

Older digeridoo players to 8th graders listen intently.
Former local Uncle Barney plays the didgeridoo to students at Renmark Secondary School.(ABC Riverland: Victor Petrovic)

The Department of Education said more than 6,000 students from 50 schools across South Africa will learn an indigenous language in 2022.

One of the people involved in formulating the national curriculum in the 2000s, which is still followed by schools like Renmark High School, was Associate Professor Angela Scarino.

“I am very, very happy to see an increase in the teaching of Aboriginal languages ​​in schools in South Australia, after many years of fighting for precisely this,” Ms Scarino said.

“By having indigenous languages ​​in schools, there are spin-offs in schools, because the school as a whole is committed to this language.