• “If I am strong enough in my first language I can use it to learn English". (Michael Gottschalk/Photothek via Getty Images)Source: Michael Gottschalk/Photothek via Getty Images
Over 85 per cent of adults from remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory do not have the ability to operate independently on literacy and numeracy tasks within the workplace, new research shows.
Charlotte Lemmon

15 Sep 2017 - 10:02 AM  UPDATED 15 Sep 2017 - 10:02 AM

New research has revealed that a majority of Indigenous adults in the Northern Territory lack the literacy levels required by most workplaces, with an expert saying learning in language before English is crucial.

Charles Darwin University researchers examined six remote Indigenous communities in the NT to identify issues surrounding the low levels of Indigenous adult English Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) and its relationship to post school education and successful careers.

A sample of 660 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults aged 15 years and over were surveyed for the research, finding large proportions of adults had low skills in reading, writing, speaking, listening and numeracy.

Statistics expert and report co-author Fiona Shalley said more than 85 per cent did not have the literacy skills to operate independently in tertiary education or the workplace.

“This could translate into a large number across the board,” she said.

Educational leader Rosemary Gundjarranbuy, from the Galiwin’ku community, said the study emphasized the importance for Indigenous people to comprehend literacy and numeracy in their first language before they could successfully learn English.

“How can I write in English if I struggle to write in my own language?” she said.

“If I am strong enough in my first language I can use it to learn English.”

Report strategic priority project Manager Allison Stewart hopes the research promotes strong awareness of the lack of Indigenous people’s English language literacy skills, but said a lot more needs to be done.

“I think there are a lot more conversations that need to take place in this issue,” she said.

“It hasn’t been recognized that English is a second, third or sometimes fourth additional language.”

The research shows almost all young adults under age 20 do not have English skills needed to cope competently within the workforce or in education, in areas of speaking (98%), listening (96%) and writing (92%).

The 2016 National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results shows 46 per cent of Aboriginal students in year nine did not meet the minimum benchmark in English numeracy, and 34 per cent did not meet the minimum benchmark in English reading.

This is particularly of concern as these students will contribute to the population who move from school into adulthood with low English LLN capabilities.

“There are a lot of kids who even leave school before their last NAPLAN testing,” Ms Stewart said.

In very remote areas, 81 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s first language is their Indigenous language.

Ms Gundjarranbuy believes English education is now, more than ever, important for Indigenous people.

“For the whole community is it helpful for us to be able to look to our own language to learn English, to help my children learn English,” she said.

Ms Stewart stresses the need for Indigenous Australians to be able to read, learn and communicate in English for those who have educational aspirations.

“For those who aspire to work in the community, workplace, mainstream society, there should be a solution for them,” she said.

“At present there is very little assistance available to those who need it.”

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