Statistics show that many Indigenous children struggle to achieve basic literacy levels in Standard Australian English (SAE) and that there is a significant gap between their achievements and those of other Australians. This is despite the fact that Indigenous learners are gifted linguists and visually very acute.
Some of the reasons for this gap are:
- Low school attendance levels.
- Culturally inappropriate Anglo-centric reading/literacy material.
- An Indigenous oral tradition.
- The lack of understanding/recognition of Indigenous languages including Aboriginal English.
- The problems in acquiring Standard Australian English.
Australian answers to these problems have generally been unsympathetic, insensitive and autocratic. The Honey Ant Readers, developed with Indigenous people, for Indigenous readers are a bottom-up, rather than top-down, approach. Distinctive feature are:
- An individual reading program which caters for children who attend school irregularly, by allowing them to move at their own pace.
- The use of Aboriginal themes and stories.
- The use of the Aboriginal ways of storytelling, which are familiar to the students.
- The use of light Aboriginal English, thereby recognising and respecting their language.
- A structured program taking into account the unfamiliar characteristics of SAE and the acquisition of SAE as an additional language.