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Bilingual schools axe angers Aborigines;Briefing;International

AUSTRALIA

Prime minister John Howard has been called on to intervene over a decision by the Northern Territory government to shut bilingual schools for Aborigines.

The decision, based largely on financial grounds, has caused uproar among educationists across Australia. They have described it as nothing less than "a subtle form of genocide".

"We are being denied the right to learn our own language in our own land. This is a sneaky form of killing culture and it's our people who are losing their identity," says Lynne de Vow, an officer with the territory's education department.

Last year, the department conducted a review of bilingual programmes in the 21 schools where children are first taught in their home language. The review recommended that these be phased out over the next three years and all teaching be through English.

Australia has a poor record on indigenous languages. Of the estimated 250 major Aboriginal languages that were spoken before European settlement, only about 20 are still being acquired naturally by children at home.

Lynne de Vow was born in Australia of Torres Strait Islander parents. She regrets that she never learned her own people's language. "My mother was flogged at school when she spoke her native language and that was why she only used English with us."

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