About 'both ways' education


The terms ‘both ways’ and ‘two ways’ are now used more or less interchangeably, though distinctions have been made between these terms in some of the theoretical literature. Stephen Harris’ (1990) use of the term ‘two way schooling’ referred to a practice of drawing on two necessarily separate domains of knowledge. But more recently, the terms ‘two way learning’ and ‘both way learning' have come to indicate the acceptance of a mixing of western and Indigenous knowledge. The Ganma metaphor, for example, likens the meeting of these knowledge systems to the meeting of two bodies of water in a lagoon where salt and fresh water come together.

The idea of teaching Indigenous culture and language alongside Western disciplines was originally promoted during the 1980s through the intervention of Indigenous groups in schools. The ‘both ways’ approach was developed and articulated by Indigenous teacher trainees, most significantly Mandawuy Yunupiŋu and Nalwarri Ngurruwutthun.

Harris (1990) defined two-way Aboriginal schooling as: "a strategy to help make the matter of choice real in both worlds; to provide opportunity for the primary Aboriginal identity to stay strong, though changing, and thus continue to be the source of inner strength and security necessary for dealing with the Western world." He argued that " Aboriginal people today are increasingly interested both in being empowered in terms of the Western world and in retaining or rebuilding Aboriginal identity as a primary identity"(1990: 48). However his feeling that these domains (Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal) should be kept separate, in order to retain their integrity, has been criticized by other theoreticians who argue that these domains cannot exist entirely separately and that it is healthy for aspects of each domain to contribute to the other.

The "both ways" approach tends to focus on those aspects of each domain which are compatible. The Garma Maths curriculum, for example, finds correspondences between aspects of the Yolŋu kinship system, (Gurrutu), and aspects of numeracy; and between people’s connections with place, (Djalkiri), and concepts of pattern and space in western maths.

Above all else, Yolŋu educators emphasise the importance of Yolŋu ownership and control over the development of a culturally appropriate Yolŋu pedagogy and curriculum. They also stress the importance of expressing ideas and concepts in specific Yolŋu ways.


Important terms

In her 1998 Wentworth lecture, Indigenous educator Dr R. Marika drew attention to the following “...important esoteric Yolŋu words that have informed ... curriculum development at Yirrkala”:

Ganma is the name of a lagoon where salt and fresh water meet. Water is a symbol of knowledge in Yolŋu philosophy, and the metaphor of the meeting of two bodies of water is a way of talking about the knowledge systems of two cultures working together.

Milŋurr is the name of sacred spring water. It represents the ebb and flow of water and thus of knowledge.

Garma is a ceremonial area that is open to everyone. It is also thought of as an open forum where ideas can be shared and negotiated.

Galtha is that process. It refers to people’s negotiation of the form that some collective action will take. As Dr R. Marika explains: “Galtha marks the nexus between plan and action, between theory and practice”.



A history of 'both ways' education

1972 The newly elected Labor government, under Gough Whitlam, introduced a program advocating teaching Aboriginal children in Aboriginal languages.
1973 Bilingual education was initiated by the Commonwealth government, which at that time, still administered the Northern Territory. The bilingual program provided the first real opportunity for indigenous people to determine the type and style of education they wanted for their children.
Homeland Centre communities were established on traditional lands and a report on Homeland Centre education was commissioned by the Northern Territory Department of Education.
1976 A community based teacher education program commenced. This later became known as the Remote Area Teacher Education (RATE) program based at Batchelor College.
1984 Yirrkala Community School Action Group, involving every Yolŋu member of staff at the school, commenced working. At his time the Action Group had little influence over the decisions the School Principal, though he frequently asked for reports from them.
The Yirrkala Action Group provided input into Batchelor College Reaccreditation proposal for Batchelor College Associate Diploma of Teaching (Aboriginal Schools)
The Yirrkala Community School Council started to operate. This was the first time that decisions about the school were made by Yolŋu at Yirrkala together with representatives of all of the clans living in outlying Homeland centres.
1986 Following two years consultation and orientation with the Yirrkala community, researchers from Deakin University established the Deakin-Batchelor Aboriginal Education program (D-BATE). The D-BATE program was for a research based Batchelor of Arts (in Education) degree.
Mandawuy Yunupiŋu completes course requirements for B.A (Ed.) through the D-BATE program His research involved investigating the notion of ‘both ways’ education.
The Yirrkala school developed a five-year vision, an Aboriginalisation plan, which was accepted by the Northern Territory Government. As part of this plan they set up the Nambarra School Council, made up of Yolŋu matha (language) speaking members of staff, including the Principal, who formed the school’s governing body.
1987 The Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies funded the “Towards a Ganma Curriculum” program.
1989 Galtha Rom workshops began with both Community Education Centre and Primary workshops. These early workshops considered mathematical form in Yolŋu and Balanda terms, to investigate how mathematics works through relationships. Thus equivalence was found between Djalkiri, literally ‘footprints’ or Ancestral imprints on the land, and concepts of pattern and space in western maths; and connections were made between the Balanda number system and the Yolŋu system of Gurrutu, or kinship.