Key Findings

The Yolŋu consultants were in strong agreement on the following points:

  1. Before Yolŋu children can benefit from schooling they need to have a strong sense of their own Yolŋu identity.

  2. The sorts of investments (balyunmirr) and connections (djalkiri, gurrutu) which constitute Yolŋu identity are often understood as a form of logical reasoning, or mathematics. This is what is meant when Yolŋu people refer to ‘Yolngu maths’.

  3. There is a fundamental dislocation between the way Balanda and Yolŋu understand the world. The two systems ‘do not recognise each other’. Yolŋu and balanda have been working together for many years, but Yolŋu teachers still don’t understand balanda maths very well, and most Balanda don’t understand the workings of Yolŋu maths.

  4. It is very difficult to make theoretical connections or explain links between Yolŋu and Balanda maths.

  5. Balanda maths has a meaningful place in Yolŋu everyday life which is easier for children to understand than maths in the classroom.

  6. The Balanda maths education of Yolŋu kids generally gets stuck at a relatively simple level. There is plenty of evidence that Yolŋu kids are very bright. They learn well and quickly in the right context. The problem is with the school maths program, not with the kids.

  7. At the practical level, one way to begin to get past this blockage is to systematically locate Balanda maths education for Yolngu kids in those aspects of contemporary Yolngu life which are already ordered through balanda maths.

  8. Schooling is a lot harder now than it was when the consultants were young – there is a high turnover of balanda staff, balanda are no longer learning to speak Yolngu languages and participate in the culture, there are many distractions in the community which lead children away from both school and traditional culture, and there is a general disinvestment in bilingual education, and the presence of traditional languages, cultures and elders in schools.

  9. The Yolŋu consultants, and many other Yolŋu parents are always keen to be more involved in helping the school develop good mathematics curriculum and teaching practices.