PhD candidate probes language access for Indigenous uni students

(L to R) Sheena Baird, Ganesh Koramanill and Skye Clayton talking about barriers at university. Photo supplied by Charles Darwin University.

A PhD candidate at Charles Darwin University is researching the language barriers Indigenous Australians face in tertiary education.

Obstacles for Indigenous students are not often visible and can result in them choosing to leave university. With 17 per cent of Charles Darwin University’s students identifying as Indigenous, this research is particularly important.

“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,” said PhD candidate Ganesh Koramannil.

Mr Koramannil said international students always have their language backgrounds identified clearly and must meet English proficiency requirements before starting university if English is not their first language. If proficiency levels are not met, international students have options to take English language pathways.

English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EALD) Indigenous students are not afforded the same pathways.

“As a result [they] don’t have easy access to existing English language support infrastructure at the university,” Mr Koramannil said.

This became evident to Mr Koramannil when he was teaching at the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education based in the Northern Territory.

He was teaching a student who actively participated in class however an essay assignment was not assessable.

“I had to counsel the student. It was during the conversation with this student that their invisible English language barrier emerged,” Mr Koramannil said.

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

Mr Kormannil has a background in teaching English as a second language and has been an examiner for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) for a decade. He has taught English both in India and Australia.

Mr Koramannil said language barriers can be disheartening for Indigenous students.

By Hannah Cross

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