Tackling Literacy Problems in Remote Communities

Rawa Community School in the Pilbara has taken the innovative approach of engaging a Perth-based speech pathologist – Diana Rigg of PLD Literacy Resources- to help tackle its literacy problems.

When Rigg’s first introduced her 5-step PLD literacy program into Rawa at the start of 2010, all of the school’s 70 students aged between 5 and 8 were illiterate and classified as ‘non-readers’. Following the first year of the program, the number of ‘non-readers’ has decreased from 100% to 64% and Rigg is confident she can teach even the most disadvantaged student to read within six months. While there is an Aboriginal Literacy Strategy (ALS) Program is in place, Rigg’s believes it has some “gaps” and isn’t specialist enough to tackle the range of issues teacher face working in these communities.

While it’s commonly thought the role of the speech pathologist is to deal with impediments such as lisping, speech pathologists are playing an active role in the WA education sector working alongside teachers who are struggling to deal with poor literacy levels and lack the tools, resources and experience to do something about it. There is a direct relationship between language and literacy. If a child cannot hear or understand the sound a word make (e.g.: ‘s’, ‘u’, ‘n’ equals ‘sss’, ‘uh’, ‘nnn’), learning to read and write is a major challenge.

Diana Rigg’s PLD Literacy Resources 5-step literacy program has been designed to help teachers overcome the language barriers children face so they are ready to can start learning the alphabet. In remote indigenous communities where English is often the second, third or fourth language spoken at home, there’s often quite a bit of work to do to get children to the point of being alphabet-ready, with these language barriers exacerbated by:

Health issues: The majority of indigenous children (70%) suffer from Otitis Media, a serious middle ear infection that disrupts their hearing and literally makes it hard for them to hear the sound a word makes
Cultural issues: The print/word way of learning is foreign as are books and pens. Learning in aboriginal culture happens via pictures.

Rigg’s 5-step program gets to the core of the issue, with 4 of the 5 steps focusing specifically on ear health. Her program is rolled out alongside the ALS Program and the results speak for themselves. The program is now being rolled out across Rawa’s sister school and Rigg is also implementing it in some mainstream schools in WA. She says literacy levels are on the decline generally across the state, given the prevalence of technology in children’s lives (a passive form of language) and growing number of ear infections from kids being in day care.