Adult literacy and Aboriginal community well-being in western NSW

Investigators: Associate Professor Bob Boughton (Project leader), Associate Professor Toni Schofield, Dr Lorina Barker, Professor Richard Taylor (UNSW), Adjunct Professor Jack Beetson, Dr William Bartlettt, Ms Pat Anderson.

Project summary

Adult Indigenous Australians (aged 15 or over) have literacy levels comparable to those in the world’s lowest-income countries, including the poorest of sub-Saharan Africa (Kral and Schwab 2003, Boughton 2009, UNESCO 2015). At least 35% of the Indigenous adult population are reported to have minimal English language literacy, with the figure rising significantly in rural and remote areas (Kral and Schwab 2003). In 2012, a mass adult literacy campaign was launched in the remote western NSW community of Wilcannia (Boughton et al. 2013), utilising the Yo, Si Puedo! (Yes, I Can!) model developed in Cuba. The campaign extended in 2013-15 to the  nearby communities of Bourke, Enngonia and Brewarrina, and Walgett and Weilmoringle will join in 2016. This development is unique - it is the only adult literacy campaign in the world operating in Indigenous communities in a high-income country.

This project is investigating the impacts of the campaign and specifically the relationship between improvements in literacy levels and the everyday lives of the Aboriginal participants, their families and communities. It is developing a new theoretical and methodological approach for understanding how Indigenous adult literacy may operate as a social determinant of Indigenous health and wellbeing.

A multi-disciplinary team from the University of New England, the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales is conducting the research with two partner organisations, the Literacy for Life Foundation (LFLF), established  in 2013 by Aboriginal leaders to lead the national campaign rollout, and the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research Institute.


In the Global South, mass adult literacy campaigns have brought significant gains in individual and population health, but the pathways through which this occurs remain under-researched. This project consolidates a long term research collaboration with a national Aboriginal organisation and its community, government and corporate partners to study this model in Aboriginal communities, thereby contributing to the knowledge base required to address the underlying determinants of Aboriginal health.


Associated publications

Boughton, B., & Durnan, D. (2017). Popular Education Pedagogy & South-South Solidarity. An Asia Pacific Perspective In A. v. Kotze & S. Walters (Eds.), Forging Solidarity. Popular Education at work (pp. 39-48). Rotterdam: Sense.

Boughton, B. (2016). Popular education and mass adult literacy campaigns. Beyond the ‘new literacy studies’. In K. Yasukawa & S. Black (Eds.), Beyond economic interests. Critical perspectives in adult literacy & numeracy in a globalised world (pp. 149-164). Rotterdam: Sense.

Boughton, B. (2016). Radical international adult education. A pedagogy of solidarity. In R. Mizzi, T. Rocco & S. Shore (Eds.), Disrupting Adult and Community Education. Teaching, Learning and Working in the Periphery (pp. 257-273). New York: SUNY Press.

Boughton, B., & Durnan, D. (2014). Cuba’s Yo, Sí Puedo. A Global Literacy Movement? Postcolonial Directions in Education. Special Issue: Adult Literacy and Adult Education, 3(2), 325-359.

Boughton, B., & Durnan, D. (2014). Cuba’s “Yes, I Can” mass adult literacy campaign model in Timor-Leste and Aboriginal Australia: A comparative study. International Review of Education, 1-22. doi: 10.1007/s11159-014-9421-5

Boughton, B., Chee, D. A., Beetson, J., Durnan, D., & Leblanch, J. C. (2013). An Aboriginal Adult Literacy Campaign in Australia using Yes I Can. Literacy and Numeracy Studies, 21(1), pp.5-32.

Boughton, B. (2009). Popular Education for Literacy & Health Development in Indigenous Australia. Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, Vol 38, pp103 - 108.