For all of you who love books and reading, take a minute today to check out Australia’s Indigenous Literacy Foundation site. It will give you some idea of the great work that is being done helping Indigenous children get access to culturally appropriate books and resources in an effort to improve literacy. It also gives you the opportunity to celebrate International Literacy Day, today, and donate so that the work can increase.
Indigenous Literacy Day is organised annually by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation which has raised more than $2million over the past six years. The Foundation provides culturally books and resources to community centres, schools, mothers’ centres and other organisations across the country including in some of the most remote parts of the country.
Among the ILF’s innovative projects is the one at the remote Warburton community, in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, Gibson Desert, Western Australia. There, books in the local language have been provided which means not only do the children improve their reading but the mothers, many of whom do not read english, are able to get actively involved in helping their children.
Despite the good work being done in numerous programs across the country involving a variety of groups, including State, Territory and Federal Governments across the country, the statistics relating to literacy amongst Indigenous young people remain alarming. According to the Indigenous Literary Foundation, and based on independent and government studies:
- Indigenous homes, particularly those in remote communities, have fewer books, computers and other educational resources than non-Indigenous homes. All of these factors are linked to children’s achievements at school and in the development of English literacy skills.
- The development of English literacy skills is important for the life opportunities of Indigenous children and youth. Literacy provides them with ‘the necessary skills to interact within mainstream society and avail themselves of the broadest range of civic, social, educational and employment possibilities’.
- The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students emerges early. Non-Indigenous students far out-perform Indigenous students in benchmark tests for reading, writing and numeracy in Year 3 and Year 5. By Year 7, the gap has widened, particularly for numeracy. And by the age of 15, more than one-third of Australia’s Indigenous students ‘do not have the adequate skills and knowledge in reading literacy to meet real-life challenges and may well be disadvantaged in their lives beyond school’.
- Indigenous children living in isolated areas have even lower literacy rates. In the Northern Territory, only one in five children living in very remote Indigenous communities can read at the accepted minimum standard. By Year 7, this had dropped to just 15%. That is, 47 percentage points behind their urban Indigenous peers and 74 percent less than non-Indigenous students.
- More than half of Indigenous families living in very remote communities speak an Indigenous language in the home (according to ABS 2001 figures) Their children need extra assistance at school and from the community to learn English as a second language.
- Absenteeism from school negatively affects students’ academic performance. Indigenous students miss around 26 days of school per year compared with 8 days for all students. Indigenous students living in remote and very remote locations are likely to miss an even greater number of school days.
- Nutrition and health are closely connected to educational achievement, school attendance and literacy skills but the health status of Australia’s Indigenous population is poor by world standards. Approximately 70% of Indigenous children in remote communities suffer from chronic Otitis Media, a serious middle ear disease that can cause permanent hearing loss and inhibit language and literacy development.
It isn’t all bad news. More Indigenous children than ever before are graduating from High School and going on to University and other forms of tertiary education. There is increasingly innovative approaches to education, including a growing recognition of the importance of children learning in their own language as well as in english. Candidates in the current Australian Federal election have vowed to focus on more careful and targetted programs in areas such as Indigenous health and education, rather than the failed more scattergun approach. Time will tell.
Donate to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation at: http://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au/