The strategic project on Aboriginal adult English LLN

Both the Commonwealth and NT governments have made statements about the importance of NT’s Aboriginal population to economic development in Northern Australia, and have strategies that target stronger participation in local community decision making, greater education and employment success and improved health and safety. Indigenous people make up 30 per cent of the NT population and are highly significant to economic development and cultural richness. Competency in English Language, literacy relates strongly to the ability to participate in all these areas.

By Allison Stewart

Fifty four percent of Aboriginal people in the NT however don’t speak English as their first language and that number increases to 81% in very remote areas. The WCE’s strategic priority project on Aboriginal adult English LLN launched a stark new research report on 12 September 2017 at the Symposium on Aboriginal adult English LLN (Australian Council for Adult Literacy 2017 national conference). The result was a wave of media interest.

The report by Fiona Shalley and Allison Stewart - “ A statistical Overview: Aboriginal adult English LLN in the NT” reveals that 85% of a sample of 660 Aboriginal adults from across the Northern Territory lack the English language, literacy and numeracy skills to function independently in life, education and work – and that there is very little assistance currently available – particularly for people at lower levels of the English LLN measurement scale. That is Pre-level, level 1 and level 2 of the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) measurement scale.

Data for this statistical overview was provided to CDU from multiple service providers – an indication of extent of need and good will. The WCE strategic priority project (SPP) on Aboriginal adult English LLN has been supported by Aboriginal elders from the 6 remote partner communities. They have spoken up about the need for English alongside recognition that Indigenous language and literacy are central to their lives and that first language literacy should come first.

The Whole of Community Engagement Initiative at Charles Darwin University has found that people are feeling “locked out” and “left behind”. For anyone with aspirations for post-school education or employment for themselves, their family and community - English is essential. For anyone who wishes to understand any information issued by government or business, read a book or a newspaper, navigate the health or legal system, understand the writing on a prescription, find their way around an airport, the ability to communicate in English is vital.

There are some good models but no coordinated response in the NT, no government department currently has responsibility for adult education and no long-term vision or commitment to improve the situation at this time. In a resource scarce situation, the SPP has been promoting collective action and stressing that the setting of long-term goals makes sense.

A model of social capacity building for LLN gains has begun to emerge in the past decades internationally. This is ‘family learning’ which stands out as a transformative approach that works across generations and between institutions. Family learning is breaking down barriers between home, school and the community. Research evidence supports a ‘whole family’ approach to literacy and other educational challenges that disadvantaged families and communities face.

WCE found that for those individuals, organisations and families who have aspirations for education and work but low levels of English LLN solutions are far from simple. A sustained effort by multiple players is required over time – a wide ranging commitment to Aboriginal-led policy and the implementation of diverse and appropriate models informed by LLN specialists and linked to related policy initiatives.

The SPP on English LLN has identified high levels of government and non-government interest to support improvement. It is hoped that the activities of the Strategic Priority Project have enlivened and informed consultation about the impact of low levels of English LLN on peoples’ lives, and on society as a whole and that it will prompt innovative and collective action for change. There is much rich information and experience to draw on – past and present, and the time is right.

The WCE would like to extend a warm thank you to well over 100 individuals and organisations who have been part of the Strategic Project in LLN since its inception during early 2016.

Learn more about SPP

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Allison Stewart

Allison Stewart

Allison Stewart

Allison combines her 15 year remote International development experience with many years working for Indigenous organisations, universities, government and non-government in the NT, WA and the ACT.

29 November 2017

Team Member Reflection: Terry Moore

Team Member Reflection: Terry Moore

​I joined the team in April 2016, just in time for the team meeting at Tennant Creek, where it was realised that the team needed someone to analyse the data that was being generated across the different communities.

Charles Darwin UniversityAustralian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & EducationBatchelor InstituteNAILSMANTG

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