Cuban literacy campaign lifting Indigenous literacy

Published 10 October 2014

Good Weekend. Photo: Edwina Pickles. Taken 12th March 2014.A Cuban designed literacy campaign run by the University of New England is helping reduce crime and increase school attendance rates at three Indigenous communities in New South Wales.

The Cuban pilot campaign called ‘Yes I Can,’ is being lead by the University of New England’s Adjunct Professor Jack Beetson along with UNE Associate Professor Bob Boughton.

“The results of the pilot show a seventy-percent retention rate for students in the communities of Wilcannia, Bourke and Enngonia.  This is much higher than usually achieved in basic literacy courses.”

The Darling River Area Commander of the NSW Police, Superintendent Greg Moore said the program has changed lives.

“Many of those involved in criminal activity are now championing social justice issues on behalf of other less literate community members. Two of the graduates are now supporting local Police by attending and providing input into our regular Police Aboriginal Consultative Committee meetings in Bourke.”

A/Prof Boughton said 80 students have already graduated.

“The first phase is about engaging the community.  The second phase involves students attending literacy classes for up to two to three months. The third phase requires students to participate in work experience which helps consolidate newly acquired literacy.”

Research shows one of the main reasons why people join the campaign is to help children with schoolwork.

The Enngonia Public School Principal Melissa Harrison has noticed improvements in student reading levels.

“Generally over a holiday period students slip back in reading levels, however this year we have seen students maintain their reading levels which I attribute to the ‘Yes I Can’ program.”

Associate Professor Boughton said children benefit if their parents are literate.

‘Families, parents and grandparents are now engaging with their school.’

The ‘Yes I Can’ campaign has taught six million people across 28 countries to read and write.

“This campaign is different because it involves the whole community in addressing low literacy levels, from the local magistrate to business owners. People are encouraged to get involved through community functions and door knocks.  The idea is to reach a certain number of people within a time frame.  It is different to just advertising for people to join a literacy course.”

Associate Professor Boughton says funding is now needed to roll out the campaign across Australia.

UNE is partnering the next stage with the Literacy for Life Foundation.