Indigenous Literacy - a snapshot


  • No matter how NAPLAN data is represented, or what very minimal progress has been made over the years, we cannot ignore or sugarcoat the fact that Indigenous children in remote and very remote locations are being significantly out performed by non-Indigenous students and students living in metro locations. One clear stat shows that between 40% and 60% of Indigenous children in very remote locations across WA, SA and NT are achieving below minimum standard in Reading in Year 3. This is certainly something as a nation we cannot ignore.     


Our Foundation’s vision and approach to raising literacy levels is focused at a community level. Our focus is on early exposure to appropriate and quality books in the home and community through the supply of books. We strongly support first language and culture and work with community to translate books which represent both English and first language. We are also committed to encouraging and supporting story writing and the development of community stories through publications. There are sets of challenges, strengths and levels of involvement in each of the communities we work in but we continue to build on our relationships with these communities and develop to find ways of supporting them.


  • 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. (Bortoli and Cresswell, 2004)


  • 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'. (Mellor and Corrigan, 2004)


  • 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. (DEET NT 2006)


  • 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'. (PISA cited in Bortoli and Cresswell, 2004, page 11).


  • 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, just 15% achieved this benchmark, 47 percentage points behind their urban Indigenous peers and 74 percent less than non-Indigenous students. (DEET NT 2006)


  • More than half of Indigenous families living in very remote communities speak an Indigenous language in the home. (ABS, 2001) 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. (Zubrick, Silburn, De Maio et al., 2006)


  • Nutrition and health are closely connected to educational achievement, school attendance and literacy skills. (DEST 2003 and ABS 2005) The health status of Australia’s Indigenous population is poor by world standards. More than twice as many Indigenous babies suffer low to extremely low birth-weight compared to non-Indigenous babies and Indigenous children are twice as likely to be hospitalized for infectious diseases. (SCRGSP, 2005)


  • Upwards of 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. (DET, WA 2006)

36% or less people in remote communities have access to a library (source)


  • NAPLAN reports
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Population Characteristics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 2001.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics, The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 2005.
  • Bortoli and Cresswell, Australia’s Indigenous Students in PISA 2000: Results from an International Study, Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), Research Monograph No. 59, August 2004.
  • Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST), Final Report of the National Evaluation of National Indigenous English Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, Dec 2003.
  • Department of Education and Training, Western Australia (DET WA) Conductive Hearing Loss and Aboriginal Students, 2006. 
  • Mellor S and Corrigan M, The Case for Change, a review of contemporary research on Indigenous education outcomes, Australian Education Review, ACER, 2004.
  • Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (SCRGSP), Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2005. Commonwealth of Australia, 2005.
  • Zubrick SR, Silburn SR, De Maio JA, Shepherd C, Griffin JA, Dalby RB, Mitrou FG, Lawrence DM, Hayward C, Pearson G, Milroy H, Milroy J, Cox A. The Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey (Volume 3): Improving the Educational Experiences of Aboriginal Children and Young People. Perth: Curtin University of Technology and Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, 2006.