The first Indigenous language program that aligns with the Australian Curriculum has been celebrated as recipient of the 2020 Commonwealth Bank Teaching Award.

The award will see Far North Queensland’s Mossman State School language teacher, Sharon Case, receive a Teaching Fellowship of $45,000. This will include $10,000 for professional development and $25,000 to invest in a program that brings long-term positive development to the school.

“It is really humbling. I’m really proud of it, but it’s very much a team effort. You don’t work alone in schools, you don’t work on your own,” Case said.

Selected from over 400 entries, the Kuku Yalanji Language Program is now in its third year and was a product of 18 months of consultation and involvement with leaders and Elders from five local Aboriginal clans.

These community consultations saw the development of the Kuku Yalanji Language Advisory Group (KYLAG), which not only drove the development of the program but continually oversees changes and teaching.

“We used those existing connections we had with community and we went to them and said, can we get some community consultation process?” Case said.

The language, in danger of extinction, has been revived. Case recalls hearing Kuku Yalanji Elder, Ray Pierce, say he could die happy knowing his language would live on.

What separates this from other language programs, is its alignment with school curriculum.

“The Department [of Education] has a framework for Indigenous languages, it already exists. Just as we teach English, Maths or Science … there is a framework for teaching Indigenous languages in schools.”

“All we had to do was use the framework and make it relevant to this language … aligning it [with the curriculum] gives the program validity and sustainability.”

“There have been programs in the past, but they are too easy for people to come in and not continue it. But this is completely aligned so it can continue.”

Case recognises the immense benefit of having Indigenous language taught in the classroom and has hopes the program takes root in more communities and classrooms.

“We get told to get an Indigenous perspective on everything, and we do. But that isn’t enough … we are about more than that, we are able valuing and embedding our Indigenous language and culture within our whole curriculum.”

“It is so much more than a language program as it teaches our kids about understanding … about their identity.”

“These kids have a right to learn their language.”

“I’d love to see this in every single school in our country, and why isn’t it? With the resources we have made … we have used the pedagogy that works.

“We have tried to make them so that any community can use them, obviously going through the community consultation process first as that is the most important part.”

By Rachael Knowles