Centre for Applied Language and Literacy Research, Edith Cowan University
Place of Publication
Mount Lawley, Western Australia
Centre for Applied Language and Literacy Research
Australian education systems have, as a whole, had limited success in attempting to impart literacy in standard English to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. One measure of the magnitude of the problem is shown in the national figures relating student achievement at various levels to agreed benchmarks. It has been shown that the Year 3 benchmarks have been achieved by fewer than two thirds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, whereas they have been achieved by nearly 90% of the national school population overall (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 1999). With respect to reading, data from the Department of Education, Western Australia have shown that level 3 outcomes are achieved by only 66.1% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students by the end of primary school, whereas they are achieved by 92.8% of the state's students overall. The disparity of achievement becomes even greater as students proceed through the system. Only 57.2% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieve level 4 outcomes by year 10, by contrast with 86.6% of students overall (Department of Education, Western Australia, 2001).
There are many variables which may be seen as having a bearing on this situation, including the socio-cultural differences which separate Aboriginal students from the school, the circumstances which limit Aboriginal students' school attendance, the nature of the curricula and pedagogy to which Aboriginal students are exposed and the lack of involvement of Indigenous people in the education system. This study is based on attention to one variable which, in the past has not been given a great deal of attention: the disparity between the way in which English is used by most Aboriginal people and the way in which English is embodied in the literacy materials used in schools.