National literacy strategy needed in Australia

Thursday, 09 September, 2021

National literacy strategy needed in Australia

One in five Australian children are behind in their language skills before they even start school, research shows.

Despite this, Australia does not have a national strategy to support children’s language and literacy before they get to school.

On International Literacy Day, held Wednesday 8 September, a national coalition of Australia’s peak early language and literacy bodies called on the Australian Government to adopt a national strategy to ensure Australian children get the best start in life.

“Alarmingly, research shows that children who start school behind their peers often stay behind. The consequences of this may be seen years later in the workforce and in poor health outcomes,” said Sue McKerracher, Chair of the National Early Language & Literacy Coalition (NELLC).

Associate Professor Tanya Serry, language and literacy expert from La Trobe University, agrees.

“The risk of having difficulties learning to read is six times greater for children who haven’t met their language milestones before they start school and many children remain behind throughout their schooling and beyond,” she said.

Studies show that 44% of Australia’s adult population do not have the sufficient literacy skills they need to cope with the demands of everyday life and work. Individuals with low literacy are also 1.5 to 3 times more likely to experience poorer health outcomes.

Australia does not have a national early language and literacy strategy, supported by the state and territory government, in place for 0- to 5-year-olds.

“All Australian children, from all walks of life and from all postcodes, deserve equity of access to quality early years learning environments that include and celebrate their families, communities, home languages, their cultures and their uniqueness,” said Professor Tom Calma, Co-Chair of The Australian Literacy & Numeracy Foundation.

“The pre-schoolers of today are the youth and leadership of our future. Every parent wants their children and the children of Australia to be literate, well-educated and great communicators. They want them to realise their full potential. A coordinated national strategy will create the systemic cohesion necessary for every child to benefit during those sensitive formative years before entering formal schooling.”

Over the past three years the NELLC, with the support of the Ian Potter Foundation and input from government departments, agencies and interested parties, has developed a proposed national strategy that it wants the government to review and prioritise.

The proposed strategy sets out the scale of the issue; describes what is happening on the ground, in different communities; and puts forward a framework for action. It is condensed into four essential priority areas — family support within communities; early education and transitions; specialist support; and knowledge production and dissemination.

The full proposed strategy is available at

Image credit: ©Tyler Olson/Dollar Photo Club

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