Imagine being a small child arriving at pre-school to find that all the teachers speak a strange form of English and all the book are in this same English…
That’s the experience of many Indigenous children in remote communities who often start school knowing three or four Indigenous dialects or an Indigenous-English language known as Kriol.
The Indigenous Literacy Foundation is a national charity that aims to tackle the disadvantages faced by children in remote Indigenous communities. The Foundation’s approach to raising literacy levels is focused at the community level. It supports early exposure to quality books in the home and community by supplying books via programs, such as Book Supply and Book Buzz, in which young children are introduced to appropriate books at an early age.
The Foundation supports first language and culture, working directly with communities to translate books and provide the first language text alongside English text. It also encourages story writing and the development of community stories through publications.
According to the Foundation, Indigenous homes, particularly those in remote communities, have fewer books, computers and other educational resources than non-Indigenous homes and these factors are linked to children’s achievements at school and the development of English literacy skills.
We spoke to The Foundation’s Executive Director, Karen Williams, about this issue and what the Foundation is doing:
1. Could you tell us a little about the stats in literacy rates between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous?
Last year’s NAPLAN results show there has been little to no improvement in the reading results amongst Indigenous school children nationally, and the figures for children living in remote and very remote locations are just appalling. The report indicates that only two out of ten children in very remote Northern Territory are achieving at or above minimum standard in Reading in Year 3. This drops to only one out of ten by the time a child reaches Year 9.
2. Why do you think this is the case in 2015?
There are many complex issues that impact on the results, and in most cases a combination of factors. These include issues of historical, health, social, and educational disadvantage. Even the simplest things, like quality reading materials and resources, items that we take for granted, are not present in many remote and very remote communities across Australia.
3. What are some of the things The Foundation is doing to redress the balance?
The philosophy of our Foundation focuses on the early years. We put the upmost importance on engaging young children in books at the earliest possible age, empowering the community to be the first teachers of literacy in their children’s lives, and recognising the importance of first language. Our Book Buzz program in Warburton is proving very effective and shows how providing young children (0-5 years old) with the right resources and in language, is a great start in developing pre-reading skills, much earlier than the schooling years.
We also provide access to quality new books through our Book Supply Program, where we gift book packs into more than 200 remote communities. Whilst out on our Field Trips, we have seen many Indigenous children enjoying the books our Foundation provides. It’s heartwarming to get testimonials on how much the communities value these free books and to see how excited the children are about choosing their own book to keep and read. One that they will enjoy over and over again.
Our work is only just starting and we have a long way to go in making a difference. The funds and awareness raised by Flanagan [author Richard Flanagan, an ILF ambassador who donated the proceeds of his PM’s Literary Award to the Foundation] are invaluable. You can help too by donating to help us provide the important resources, to publish books in language and to put books into the homes of families in remote Australia.