Indigenous Literacy. Our Way.

By Amunda Gorey, Children's Ground community researcher, artist and Arrernte language teacher

As we acknowledge Indigenous Literacy Day and International Literacy Day this week (Sep 7 and 8), we honour the importance of First Language literacy and what it means to us.

We’re celebrating amazing work currently being done on Indigenous literacy and recognising there is still much to do to drive change and create a new path forward for our children.

Children’s Ground was established to combat what has been a failing education system for our First Nations children and families. Statistics reveal that there is a persistent literacy rate gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. This effect varies by remoteness, but it exists everywhere; in major cities in 2018, 83% of Indigenous Year 9 students met the national minimum standard in reading, compared with 95% of non-Indigenous Year 9 students.

The Children’s Ground Approach is centred around culturally appropriate education; First Nations-led education. I believe this is the only way that educational and social inequities can be overcome. This is the way we can address the gap in literacy levels and ensure First Nations children grow up with a strong foundation in their First Language and culture, as well as English.

Through my experiences of learning both Arrernte and English, teaching Arrernte in a formal setting, conducting community research and raising children in a multi-lingual environment – it has become clear that there are certain principles required for our children to learn. Much of what First Nations children need to learn is not available for them in a mainstream educational system. Our children have been let down.

The Children’s Ground Approach HAS TEN PRACTICE PRINCIPLES, including ‘Innovation: combining the old and the new’, ‘Child, family and community led’ and ‘Culturally safe’. Together, these principles create an environment in which our children will not just survive but thrive.

First and foremost, our kids need to be on Country because the Country is the classroom. It’s where the language lives. Our literacy is not just in letters, it is in our relationship to the land and with each other. This approach gets us beyond cold data-oriented talk of literacy rates and into language itself.

It is in our songs and our practices that we are tied to our Country and culture. How can you learn to read this if you’re not seeing it and feeling it? Living it? Having that strong connection to Country and language, especially in those first five years of a child’s life will strengthen them and their self-esteem from the start.

You can’t separate Country from language.

You can't separate Country from language

As with the setting, comes the teachers. Our education is intergenerational. So much more language will come from the land because the older generation and Elders are involved in teaching and learning the way they learned. This was their classroom and that’s the only way they can teach appropriately.

In mainstream schools, Intergenerational teaching isn’t happening the way we need it to. It cannot exist as it does on country. Country offers benefits far beyond what a classroom can teach.

Learning on Country in our way means that families are leading and that the community is involved in their child’s education. We need to remember this is not just important for the child; it’s just as important for the educators.

Doing the teaching is their role, their identity. It is also how they continue to learn and deepen their own connections to their families and to the Country. Not teaching in this way is also robbing our families and Elders of their roles and identities, and we can see the effects.

Our culture and language are not separate things and cannot be learned independently.

We know that our children’s education – their literacy, their identity – will develop optimally in these environments on Country. Children’s Ground is showing this every day.

With this, we’re seeing stronger teachers, stronger communities, and stronger learning resources. We’re developing books in Arrernte, written, and illustrated by Arrernte people. We’re recording songs in language for our future generations.

We are creating the world our children need to thrive in their own culture with a strong sense of self, and we know that this is what will allow them to be strong in life.

By Amunda Gorey, Children's Ground community researcher, artist and Arrernte language teacher

Donors sustain our work. Donate to Children’s Ground today to support First Language literacy and enable our kids access to high quality, culturally appropriate education, or check out our books in First languages.