Nearly all Indige­nous adults in re­mote NT are not lit­er­ate enough for work­place, study finds

The Guardian Australia - - News - He­len David­son

Nearly nine out of 10 Indige­nous adults liv­ing in re­mote ar­eas of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory do not have the lit­er­acy skills to cope in the work­place, a study has found.

The sur­vey, by the Charles Dar­win Univer­sity, ex­am­ined six Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties across the NT: Gali­win’ku, Yir­rkala, Gun­bal­anya, Man­ingrida, Ten­nant Creek and Yuen­dumu.

It found more than 85% of a sam­ple group of 660 peo­ple did not have the lit­er­acy skills to op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently in a ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion or in the work­place, and there was a lack of as­sis­tance for peo­ple who wanted to im­prove their skills.

“What it clearly iden­ti­fies is that there is a gap in the ed­u­ca­tion spec­trum for Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der peo­ple in the NT,” said Prof Adrian Miller, CDU’s pro vice-chan­cel­lor for Indige­nous lead­er­ship.

“While we may seem to have looked af­ter the young, looked af­ter the teenagers – built their English lit­er­acy – this re­port shows that (de­spite best ef­forts) they are not get­ting the English and nu­mer­acy they need in school. There­fore, we have this mas­sive lit­er­acy prob­lem when they be­come adults.”

The six com­mu­ni­ties have been tak­ing part in the Whole of Com­mu­nity en­gage­ment ini­tia­tive, which project leader Al­li­son Stew­art de­scribed as a “par­tic­i­pa­tory ac­tion re­search project, part­ner­ing with peo­ple from the com­mu­nity to see what en­ables and what holds back ed­u­ca­tion par­tic­i­pa­tion”.

“In each com­mu­nity we found the com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pated in the project in dif­fer­ent ways and had dif­fer­ing pri­or­i­ties,” she said.

Fifty-four per cent of NT Indige­nous peo­ple speak an Indige­nous lan­guage at home, and the pro­por­tion in­creases with re­mote­ness, to a max­i­mum of more than 80%.

Al­most 60% of peo­ple liv­ing in very re­mote re­gions of the NT are Indige­nous, ac­cord­ing to the 2011 cen­sus, where there are also higher rates of dis­ad­van­tage in­clud­ing in health and hous­ing.

The re­port found that dur­ing com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tions, “Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple re­it­er­ated the cen­tral­ity of their own lan­guages to their cul­tural prac­tice, iden­tity and con­nec­tion to coun­try, how­ever many un­der­stood the im­por­tance of sup­port­ing their chil­dren to learn English and wanted to im­prove their own (whether in em­ploy­ment or not)”.

The re­port cited govern­ment anal­y­sis of 2008 data that found peo­ple who spoke an Indige­nous lan­guage had bet­ter health, well­be­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment out­comes, and called for responses to recog­nise the ben­e­fit of bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion.

“We re­ally need [help]. Yol­ngu peo­ple want nur­tur­ing, we want men­tor­ing pro­grams to be hap­pen, we want adult ed­u­ca­tion to hap­pen,” Rose­mary Gund­jar­ran­buy from El­cho Is­land told the ABC.

Stew­art said: “A lot of peo­ple said it was re­ally im­por­tant for them­selves and their chil­dren to be lit­er­ate in their own lan­guage and that English comes on as an ad­di­tional lan­guage.

“Some re­search has shown that chil­dren who are com­pe­tent in their own lan­guage are more com­pe­tent in speak­ing and learn­ing English be­cause they’ve built that lan­guage ca­pac­ity.”

Stew­art and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from

some of the com­mu­ni­ties were in Can­berra on Wed­nes­day to visit govern­ment de­part­ments and share their find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions.

“We’re try­ing to get govern­ment to un­der­stand the need for more as­sis­tance in this area and the need for a pol­icy in the NT for adult ed­u­ca­tion and/or lan­guage lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy,” Stew­art said.

De­spite be­ing a sig­na­tory to the Coun­cil of Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ments pol­icy to raise adult lit­er­acy lev­els, it had no ex­plicit ref­er­ence to adult lit­er­acy in its eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and Indige­nous af­fairs poli­cies, and had no di­rect ap­pli­ca­tion of govern­ment fund­ing to the sec­tor.

Stew­art said there was a lack of co­or­di­nated responses at the fed­eral level.

“Clos­ing the Gap – the pri­mary pol­icy in this area – has no key per­for­mance in­di­ca­tors around adult ed­u­ca­tion or around lan­guage, lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy,” she said. “That has a flow on ef­fect, and there’s no adult ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy or lan­guage, lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy pol­icy for the NT.”

This was not new in­for­ma­tion and many prac­ti­tion­ers have been point­ing out the prob­lem for years, she said.

“Some very suc­cess­ful models ap­plied but there’s never been any co­or­di­nated ac­tion in this area, there’s never been a pol­icy com­mit­ment.”

Pho­to­graph: Jonny Weeks for the Guardian

A Charles Dar­win Univer­sity sur­vey found nearly nine out of 10 Indige­nous adults liv­ing in re­mote ar­eas of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory do not have the lit­er­acy skills to cope in the work­place.

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