In my time travelling to different schools and conducting seminars with educators, I often highlight the fact that attendance at school is important and essential for children to learn. However it’s important to point out that on its own, attendance will not raise literacy standards.
This is particularly the case for remote schools and those rural schools with a high indigenous population students. The majority of the indigenous students entering these schools present with a complex skill profile. These students typically enter schools having had a history of ear infections. In addition their oral language skills in first language (or languages) and English typically is below the level required to support a smooth transition into literacy and curriculum learning.
A case study completed by Speech Pathology Australia (SPA) in association with the Independent Schools of Western Australia (AISWA) looked at the literacy gap between Indigenous and Non Indigenous students. In their research they concluded that focusing on oral language and the sounds that make up words, students were taught how to hear the different sounds in words and how these sounds are represented in written form. This aligns closely with PLD’s approach to literacy. You can read the entire case study here.
As a speech pathologist and a teacher I can see the intervention process is relatively straightforward. However, this intervention requires teaching staff gaining specialist training and programs to develop the prerequisite skills for literacy acquisition and enhanced curriculum participation.
In this particular case study school, I worked closely with the teaching and Aboriginal Education Assistants(AEA) support staff. When the PLD program was first introduced, 100 per cent of the junior primary students were assessed as being ‘non-readers’, while at the end of the first year of the program, this was reduced to 64 per cent. Also, only 25 per cent of the primary students were reading within one year of their reading age before the program, in comparison to 86 per cent after the first year.
With each trip I take to Western Australian and Northern Territory communities I further glimpse the complexities. I often talk with teachers and educators who are also concerned about how to deal with these complex issues and ensure the literacy of indigenous children can be maximised and they can succeed and be at a similar level to children across Australia, and not just in remote areas.
I am certain it is the quality of the programs and the quality of the school’s literacy plan and delivery of the literacy program that makes the difference, and I am continuing to look at ways to incorporate PLD’s programs into remote indigenous areas.