Call for English language support for Indigenous students


From left: Sheena  Baird, Ganesh Koramanill and Skye Clayton discussing barriers faced at university

From left: Sheena  Baird, Ganesh Koramanill and Skye Clayton discussing barriers faced at university

Invisible obstacles faced by Indigenous students could have a negative impact on their success in higher education – potentially resulting in them leaving university.

Charles Darwin University (CDU) PhD candidate Ganesh Koramannil is exploring the English and academic language barriers that Indigenous English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EALD) speakers face in higher education.

“Many Indigenous students speak English as a second, third, fourth or fifth language and many don’t speak English at home. It’s not always recognised that English isn’t their mother tongue,” Ganesh said.

“International students, on the other hand, have their language backgrounds clearly identified and if English is their second language, they need to meet English language proficiency requirements before commencing studies at Australian universities.”

Ganesh said the English language requirements for overseas students were well-articulated and for those who don’t necessarily meet required levels of proficiency, they have the option of taking English language pathways to the university.

“EALD Indigenous students, however, do not have these sorts of pathways and as a result don’t have easy access to existing English language support infrastructure at the university,” he said.

Ganesh, who is also a CDU academic, has a strong background in teaching English as a second language and has been an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) examiner for a decade. He has taught English in India, Australia and EALD Indigenous students at Batchelor Institute.

Ganesh said the genesis of his research was an incident he encountered while teaching at Batchelor Institute.

“One student, who participated actively in class, could not submit an assignment that looked anything like an essay,” he said.

“The work was not assessable, and I had to counsel the student. It was during the conversation with this student that their invisible English language barrier emerged.

“Like me, English for this student was their fifth language. This connected me with the existing problem and led me to my research.”

Ganesh said up to 17% of CDU’s student population identified themselves as Indigenous, many of whom were mature-aged and may come with little or no formal education.

“One of the positive insights gained in the research so far is that like their peers, Indigenous students are very ambitious and want a better future,” he said.

“However, English and academic language barriers can result in them becoming disheartened as they may not be aware of the learning impediments.”

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