From the forensic team on the Chamberlain case, to the UFO-spotting and croc-wrestling of the NT News, the Territory has a solid reputation for frontier fringery.

The allergy to evidence comes from the top down. Just yesterday, a story in The Australian pointed out that the plummeting attendance rates in some Northern Territory schools is linked to the virtual abolition of bilingual education. Predictable as this may seem, it took a statistical study by our very own Greg Dickson to point it out.

Greg’s research in Batchelor Press’ Ngoonjook drew attention to the fact that enrolments dropped off in the Warlpiri language schools after the introduction of the “First Four Hours” policy in 2008.

What this policy means in practice is that classes are run in English for the first four hours of the day, leaving one hour for traditional languages in the afternoon — by which time students have either gone home or are too tired to concentrate. A key justification for the policy, put forward by the former education minister Marion Scrymgour, was that attendance at bilingual schools was lower than non-bilingual schools.

But Brian Devlin, of Charles Darwin University, has argued vigorously that the figures Scrymgour used were dodgy to begin with, claiming that the statistics tabled in parliament excluded the award-winning Murrupurtiyanuwu school, and that the NAPLAN testing data was presented incorrectly.

Putting aside Devlin’s implication of parliamentary dishonesty, just how far did attendance drop in the Warlpiri schools that Dickson assessed?

Peter Fray

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