Countering Rheumatic Heart Disease with first language teaching

Rheumatic Heart Disease affects many young people in communities across the Northern Territory. The condition is defined as damage to one or more heart valves due to Acute Rheumatic Fever, caused by streptococcus bacteria.

At Maningrida College, in a bid to combat the prevalence of Rheumatic Heart Disease, the school’s Lúrra Language and Culture unit is teaching students about the illness using several Aboriginal languages, including Burarra, Ndjébbana, Djinang and Kuninjku.

The six-week course involves Transition to middle school students, and relies strongly on locally relatable metaphors to describe concepts such as the functions of the heart, immune system and causes of Rheumatic Heart Disease.

The college’s Teacher Linguist, Mason Scholes, said: “The students are being taught about the function of the heart, how germs and white blood cells act, how medicines support white blood cells, and the symptoms of Rheumatic Heart Disease, and how to prevent it from worsening.

“These are complex issues, best taught using students’ first languages and resources appropriate to their age. Reducing the burden of this malady demands community participation and culturally relevant education.”

Principal Daryll Kinnane said: “The work the Language and Culture team has done is one of the most powerful examples of community engagement, and health promotion, I have witnessed in my teaching career.”

The program was created by the Lúrra Language and Culture team, DoE Language Resource Officer Dr. Rebecca Green, Bulanyjan (Alice) Mitchell of the Pedrino Project, an initiative of the Menzies School of Health Research and Rheumatic Heart Disease Australia, Maningrida Community Health Centre, and the Malabam Health Board Aboriginal Corporation.

Last updated: 11 April 2018