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Interview #18: Celebrating literacy in Indigenous Australian Communities
Indigenous Literacy Day on Wednesday 7 September marks a major fundraising and advocacy day to raise awareness about the need to improve learning opportunities for Indigenous Australians in remote and isolated regions.
The day is headed by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF), which was set up by members of the publishing industry to run programs that contribute to educational programs in Indigenous communities. Established in 2005, the ILF run three core programs; Book Supply, Book Buzz and Community Literacy Projects, all of which have resulted in positive engagement with reading materials since their inception.
For this edition of In Conversation, we join Alice McNamara from Pearson Australia to talk about Indigenous Literacy Day, Pearson’s involvement with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, and her recent experience on the ILF’s Warburton trip.
Why is Indigenous Literacy Day so important and what is Pearson’s involvement with Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF)?
Through Indigenous Literacy Day, the ILF aims to raise funds that contribute to literacy programs for Indigenous Australians living in remote and isolated regions of the country.
The ILF’s mission is to improve the literacy of Indigenous children and to provide them with the skills required to enter primary school with a passion for learning. The ILF identified long ago that educational resources in remote communities were sorely needed, which is why they developed a number of education-focussed programs to address calls for support.
Pearson identified shared values with the ILF and we now work together to address these challenges facing remote communities.
The view from across the desert near Uluru. Photo by Alice McNamara
With an emphasis on Indigenous communities, we won a grant awarded internally, to initiate and implement literacy programs in the remote community of Warburton in Western Australia. Home to over 700 members of the Ngaanyatjarra people, Warburton is 1,500km northeast of Perth and isolated from surrounding communities by huge expanses of land.
The Digital Literacy Program was born out of a desire to introduce a digital literacy solution into the Warburton community.
Through the program, Pearson and the ILF are creating an enhanced eBook that will introduce popular children’s titles such as Where’s Spot in a digital format. The material will be delivered to young learners in a format that provides an opportunity to interact with the content via written text or in a narrated form in either English or the local Ngaayatjarra language.
Why is it so important that people donate on Indigenous Literacy Day?
Donations to the ILF are vital to the future success and penetration of literacy programs in Indigenous communities. The organisation relies on the support of the Australian public to increase the reach and quality of their programs and as such, donations are core to their success.
Using the community of Warburton as an example, donations enable volunteers to travel to the region with resources that teachers require to engage children and their parents. Resources such as books and writing materials facilitate participation in the classroom and benefit students, both young and old, even when they leave the learning environment.
What is your personal involvement with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation?
Through my work in the Pearson Schools division, I developed a passion for education delivery and the challenges that remote Indigenous communities face with literacy and education.
I became involved with the ILF through my role at Pearson as the Communications and Relationships Manager for the Digital Literacy Program. I visited the Ngaanyatjarra people in Warburton earlier this year where I met with members of the community to gain a better understanding of their learning environment, culture and the unique challenges that they face as a community.
As part of my trip, I gathered materials for the development of an enhanced eBook that we’re developing through the Digital Literacy Program.
Having seen the impact of Indigenous Literacy Foundation programs first hand, what opportunities do these programs bring to the community?
In my short time with the Warburton community I met a number of primary school students that were passionate about reading. Interestingly, these students had all been involved with the Book Buzz program at the local playgroup and their enthusiasm for education was infectious.
Programs such as Book Buzz in Warburton provide young children and their parents with an opportunity to learn together in a supportive environment. Through this program, children have an opportunity to read classic children’s titles such as Where’s Spot and The Very Hungry Caterpillar in their local language. The books themselves are printed in English and contain translation stickers below the text that enable Indigenous children to interact with the material.
The ILF emphasise the importance of preserving local languages and the translation of reading materials to Indigenous languages is incredibly important to document these pieces of literature for future generations.
How have teachers and educators responded to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation program?
I had an opportunity to meet the head of the local playgroup, Anne Shinkfield, who has been involved with the group since the early 1990s.
Anne gave me extremely positive feedback on the success of the Book Buzz program and believes that it has made an enormous contribution to creating a welcoming environment for children to learn alongside family members.
Including family members in story time gives children double the confidence to participate in learning and she can foresee the benefits that the program will bring to the community for generations to come.
Although specifically aimed at children, parents have also benefited from their time at the playground. The group provides an opportunity for them to read alongside their children and Anne advised that she has witnessed an uplift in confidence amongst the parent community as well.
Thanks to the work of the ILF, reading materials are available at the local playgroup and the simple task of reading is accessible to the community.
What role does technology play in learning environments in Warburton?
The Warburton playgroup has limited access to technology at present, however, the local primary school does use electronic whiteboards to engage students in the classroom.
I had an opportunity to introduce a child to Where’s Spot on my phone during the trip and he knew exactly how to use it without hesitation. Many parents of children in the playgroup have smartphones, though access to the Internet is not all that common in these rural regions..
Working alongside the ILF with the Digital Literacy Program, we hope to provide iPads to the playgroup and local primary school so that children can have greater opportunities to interact with reading materials, even offline. The enhanced eBook presents an exciting opportunity and educators amongst the community are eagerly awaiting its arrival to introduce to students and their parents.
What is the expected benefit to the community of the enhanced eBook once it launches?
The eBook represents a strong educational tool that will unlock the ability for children to read at home when their parents aren’t available to read to them. We believe that the enhanced eBook will prepare children for learning environments and reduce the stress of transition from their playground to the early years of primary school.
From a digital perspective, once the iPads are implemented into playgroup, children will gain more exposure to technology from a younger age. This exposure will help reduce the literacy gap and enable Indigenous students to have a more fulfilling experience in education systems.
You can make a donation to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation on their website here
Alice McNamara has been with Pearson since 2012 and developed her passion for education and digital publishing through her work in the Pearson Schools publishing team.
As an advocate of social impact activities, Alice joined the ILF on a trip to Warburton earlier this year and is currently involved with the Early Literacy Project to develop an enhanced eBook for indigenous children in remote communities.
Since launching the 'In Conversation' series in 2015, we now have a collection of interviews to present, with more arriving each month!
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