Residents of Wilcannia turned out on 7 February 2012 to celebrate the launch in their community of an Aboriginal Adult Literacy Campaign pilot supported by both the Lowitja Institute and its predecessor the CRC for Aboriginal Health (CRCAH).
About 300 members and friends of the far western New South Wales community enjoyed music and a barbecue lunch as they learned more about the pilot project, which is based on a Cuban mass literacy campaign method called ‘Yo Si Puedo’ (‘Yes I Can’) that has already produced impressive results in countries such as Nicaragua, East Timor and the Dominican Republic.
The aim of the pilot project is to assess whether this model can be applied successfully in an Aboriginal community, and to discover what would be involved in up-scaling it to other regions. If the pilot proves successful, project leaders anticipate that a full-scale campaign could be rolled out across many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities over a three-year timeframe.
The Wilcannia Local Aboriginal Land Council is the lead agency for the implementation of the pilot, with support from the Wilcannia Central School. The pilot has gained endorsement from the local community governance body, the Wilcannia Community Working Party, and has already conducted its first intake of students with graduation set for 8 May 2012. A second intake of students is due to graduate in July.
Each course runs for 10–13 weeks and, once finished, graduates will be provided with opportunities to pursue further studies or vocational activities based on their new-found literacy skills. Graduates will be supported in this by a Post-Literacy Coordinator, who will work with local authorities and the school to design individual pathways for each participant.
Jack Beetson is the on-site Project Leader and is also a member of the National Aboriginal Adult Literacy Campaign Commission. Speaking to media at the launch, he said the strong focus on community-driven education as well as a comprehensive preparation process for the campaign separated this project from other models.
‘More than half the households that have Aboriginal people living there have been surveyed as part of this process, to look at what people’s literacy needs are, so it’s been a real community effort to get it here and it will be that continued community effort that gets it over the line in the next nine months,’ Mr Beetson said. ‘It’s our intention to survey 100% of households.’
A key driver of the project has been Associate Professor Bob Boughton from the University of New England, who is in charge of overall project management. His previous research has highlighted the low levels of literacy levels among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially those living in rural and remote areas.
Many community leaders believe that these low levels of literacy in the adult population are a major impediment to improvements in a range of other areas, including health development, community governance, economic participation, and involvement in school education and post-school education and training among the younger generation.
These concerns led the CRCAH to sponsor a national workshop in Alice Springs in 2009, at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and education leaders examined the relationship between adult literacy and health, the international experience of the impact of mass adult literacy campaigns, and the details of how campaigns were conducted to optimise success. From this workshop emerged the current project underpinned by seed funding from the Lowitja Institute in April 2011 and with subsequent project funding provided by both the Commonwealth and the NSW Governments.
The Lowitja Institute is continuing to fund the project’s National Steering Committee, chaired by Donna Ah Chee and Pat Anderson, to evaluate the campaign pilot, to look at options for further roll-out to other communities, and to prepare a proposal for a study of the impact of adult literacy on community health and wellbeing.
To learn more about the project, download the Project Details Summary.