The Literacy for Life Foundation (LFLF) has exceeded 250 graduates since its inception in 2013, significantly improving adult literacy skills in Aboriginal communities Australia-wide.

LFLF is Australia’s leading Aboriginal adult literacy program and the Government’s best hope in meeting Closing the Gap targets in numeracy and literacy. The success rate for Indigenous Australians through the LFLF program is four times greater than other adult literacy courses such as TAFE or VET.

According to LFLF research, more than 40 per cent of Aboriginal adults have low literacy, with the figure reaching as high as 70 per cent in remote areas.

Despite the limitations caused by the global pandemic, this year LFLF has managed to amount to 250 graduates since its formation, with graduation ceremonies set to take place in December.

Literacy for Life Foundation Executive Director, Jack Beetson, said “we are proud to reach this milestone at the Foundation and see more vulnerable adults gain the skills they need to succeed. There’s no doubt that this year has been tough for everyone, and the pandemic has certainly made it more difficult to reach everyone in the program, but we couldn’t be prouder to see our graduates come out the other side.”

Launched in 2013, LFLF is an Aboriginal-run charity training Indigenous Australians to increase literacy in their communities and create positive on-going knock-on effects. It was established through a partnership between The Lowitja Institute, the University of New England, Indigenous education campaigner Professor Jack Beetson and global construction company Multiplex, to create more opportunities and employment for Indigenous people.

The program is 100 per cent community led with results including a 24 per cent reduction in illiteracy in Bourke, 20 per cent reduction in illiteracy in Wilcannia, 38 Indigenous jobs created and 60 per cent of graduates are female.

The 12th Closing the Gap report released this year shows Aboriginal children still trail behind non-Indigenous children in literacy, numeracy and writing skills. The report does not measure adult reading and writing skills yet shows Indigenous employment rates are much lower than the rest of the country, and according to Professor Jack Beetson, this can be directly attributed to poor reading and writing skills.

“While literacy scores for Indigenous students have slightly improved in the past decade, at least 20 per cent remain below the national benchmark. It’s a common misconception that if a student completes high school then they must have the basic skills to enter the workforce, but unfortunately, we’ve found that this is not always the case.”

According to the Quantifying Low English Literacy In Australian Aboriginal Communities: A Correlational Study report released in May, 2020 and co-written by Professor Jack Beetson, the actual extent of adult illiteracy is underestimated because of systematic over-estimation of self-reported English literacy levels and the presumption that years of schooling results in a literacy rate of Level 1 or higher.

The report investigates the prevalence of low literacy in adults in eight Aboriginal communities in NSW and finds that of the participants who were measured to have low or very low English-language literacy level using the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF), 51 per cent had completed Year 10 or higher.

This casts serious doubt on the value of school completion data which is used, for example, in Close the Gap reporting, as an accurate predictor of adult literacy rates.

The report also finds that communities with significant numbers of adults operating at low levels of English literacy are also likely to face other issues. Low adult literacy is associated with a range of problems including reduced employment prospects, poor physical and mental health, higher rates of incarceration and substance abuse which all in turn, impact on families’ ability to engage with education in a multitude of ways.

Premier construction company Multiplex has deep ties with the Literacy for Life Foundation and as a leader in the construction industry, the company wants to leave a lasting impact on communities Australia-wide.

“Construction is the biggest employer of Aboriginal men in Australia with over 10,000 Aboriginal men employed in the industry. The thing is, if people have very poor literacy levels, they can’t get their white card and go on to get jobs and progress in the field. That’s why one of the best things you can do for Aboriginal communities is adult literacy,” said Jack Beetson.

According to Global CEO of Multiplex, John Flecker; “low levels of literacy apparent among Aboriginal adults are a major barrier to employment, education, health and well-being, effective governance, community safety and long-term social and economic development.”

“We recognise that literacy is a critical first step to opening up employment and further education opportunities for Indigenous people. Our aim is to do something at a grass-roots level to help the literacy of Indigenous people in remote communities, which will flow through to provide future employment opportunities that we would not otherwise be able to get.”