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