In a new CIS report, Kirsten Storry* outlines the low levels of english literacy among Indigenous Australians, especially in remote communities, and suggests some policy reforms. Among her findings:
* Literacy levels among children and adults in remote communities are seriously low. Nationally in 2004, 83% of Aboriginal students and 93% of students overall in Year 3 achieved the literacy benchmark for their year. But Northern Territory data tells us that only 20% of Aboriginal students in remote communities in the Northern Territory achieved the benchmark.
* Addressing these low literacy levels can improve parentsâ€™ self-reliance, childrenâ€™s education and health, and the implementation of government programmes in areas such as health and governance.
* The good news is that the community and private sectors are already involved in literacy in remote Aboriginal communities. What is lacking is readily-available information about these projects and rigorous evaluation.
* Public debate on literacy generallyâ€”as well as debate on Aboriginal educationâ€”would be enriched by more comprehensive reporting on literacy levels. More comprehensive and disaggregated reporting on literacy levels would allow resources to be more efficiently directed to where they are most needed.
Amen to evaluation and reporting, though it would be nice to have empirical evidence on the extent to whichÂ english literacy affects life chances (as distinct from literacy in Indigenous languages, which isn’t mentioned in the report). And if we really want to know what works, why don’t we put up money for some randomised trials?
I’m doing some work this year with a colleague on differences in cognitive abilities of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children at very young ages (3-4). I’ll report back in due course on what we find.
* Disclosure: Kirsten was in my policy economics course last year. I’d have to check, but I’m pretty sure she topped it.