indigenous children's books

Indigenous Literacy



The Indigenous Literacy Foundation believes that Australia’s Indigenous people should enjoy the same education, employment and societal opportunities as other citizens. However, a lack of literacy skills among Indigenous communities is a common and critical barrier to participating in activities that many of us take for granted.

To help alleviate this literacy disadvantage, our Foundation works to provide access to books and literacy resources to over 200 remote Indigenous communities in Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales.

The Foundation uses a three-way approach to building literacy and each of our projects aims to promote:

  • Cultural Literacy – connecting people, particularly young people, to their culture and traditional language
  • Practical literacy – developing the skills needed for daily activities
  • English literacy – promoting skills in English reading, writing, speaking and listening


Indigenous Literacy – A snapshot

  • There is an enormous gap in the English literacy rates of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia. The gap is even wider for Indigenous people living in remote and isolated communities.
  • Indigenous homes, particularly those in remote communities, have fewer books, computers and other educational resources than non-Indigenous homes. All of these factors are linked to children’s achievements at school and in the development of English literacy skills. (Bortoli and Cresswell, 2004)
  • The development of English literacy skills is important for the life opportunities of Indigenous children and youth. Literacy provides them with 'the necessary skills to interact within mainstream society and avail themselves of the broadest range of civic, social, educational and employment possibilities'. (Mellor and Corrigan, 2004)
  • The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students emerges early. Non-Indigenous students far out-perform Indigenous students in benchmark tests for reading, writing and numeracy in Year 3 and Year 5. By Year 7, the gap has widened, particularly for numeracy. (DEET NT 2006)
  • By the age of 15, more than one-third of Australia’s Indigenous students 'do not have the adequate skills and knowledge in reading literacy to meet real-life challenges and may well be disadvantaged in their lives beyond school'. (PISA cited in Bortoli and Cresswell, 2004, page 11).

  • Indigenous children living in isolated areas have even lower literacy rates. In the Northern Territory, only one in five children living in very remote Indigenous communities can read at the accepted minimum standard. By Year 7, just 15% achieved this benchmark, 47 percentage points behind their urban Indigenous peers and 74 percent less than non-Indigenous students. (DEET NT 2006)
  • More than half of Indigenous families living in very remote communities speak an Indigenous language in the home. (ABS, 2001) Their children need extra assistance at school and from the community to learn English as a second language.
  • Absenteeism from school negatively affects students’ academic performance. Indigenous students miss around 26 days of school per year compared with 8 days for all students. Indigenous students living in remote and very remote locations are likely to miss an even greater number of school days. (Zubrick, Silburn, De Maio et al., 2006)
  • Nutrition and health are closely connected to educational achievement, school attendance and literacy skills. (DEST 2003 and ABS 2005) The health status of Australia’s Indigenous population is poor by world standards. More than twice as many Indigenous babies suffer low to extremely low birth-weight compared to non-Indigenous babies and Indigenous children are twice as likely to be hospitalized for infectious diseases. (SCRGSP, 2005)
  • Upwards of 70% of Indigenous children in remote communities suffer from chronic Otitis Media, a serious middle ear disease that can cause permanent hearing loss and inhibit language and literacy development. (DET, WA 2006)