Tackling Literacy in Remote Aboriginal Communities

  • There is an alarming educational gap facing remote Aboriginal communities. The gap in literacy between remote and urban Aboriginal children is even bigger than the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children.
  • Literacy levels among children and adults in remote communities are seriously low. Nationally in 2004, 83% of Aboriginal students and 93% of students overall in Year 3 achieved the literacy benchmark for their year. But Northern Territory data tells us that only 20% of Aboriginal students in remote communities in the Northern Territory achieved the benchmark.
  • The need for school education reform in remote communities is urgent, but targeting the next generation of school-age children is not enough. There is a pressing need to address literacy more generally in communities to stop the cycle of low educational achievement.
  • Addressing these low literacy levels can improve parents’ self-reliance, children’s education and health, and the implementation of government programmes in areas such as health and governance.
  • The good news is that the community and private sectors are already involved in literacy in remote Aboriginal communities. What is lacking is readily-available information about these projects and rigorous evaluation.
  • Public debate on literacy generally – as well as debate on Aboriginal education – would be enriched by more comprehensive reporting on literacy levels. More comprehensive and disaggregated reporting on literacy levels would allow resources to be more efficiently directed to where they are most needed.
  • Better coordination of diverse community sector involvement would facilitate information sharing and make successful projects more easily replicable. Even a simple website would be a good start. A website could disseminate information on best practice and existing services, while also matching up potential producers and consumers of literacy education services to form partnerships.
  • Those private sector organisations willing to be innovators should become involved in primary and secondary education in remote communities. Innovative school models exist, but need to be championed by private sector sponsors. Possible options include satellite schools or campuses managed by existing private schools, autonomous schools, and expansion of the School of the Air.
  • Innovative solutions are needed to close the educational achievement gap facing remote Aboriginal communities. These solutions will work best when they embrace and are embraced by governments, the community sector and the private sector.

Kirsten Storry is a Policy Analyst with the Indigenous Affairs Research Program of The Centre for Independent Studies.