The Relationship Between low Adult Literacy Levels and Aboriginal Family and Community Engagement in Educational Decision Making


  • Ruth Ratcliffe University of New England
  • Bob Boughton University of New England



adult literacy, community-school relationships, Aboriginal education, First Nations


This article draws on work with communities in the rural and remote towns of Brewarrina, Wilcannia and Enngonia, New South Wales (NSW) to explore the relationship between low adult literacy levels and the continuing alienation of Aboriginal communities from educational decision making.  Building on the analysis of community-school relations conducted by scholars such as Jay Phillips, Allan Luke and Kevin Lowe, we contend that it is exceedingly difficult to address the problems which prevent more productive relationships between communities and schools in widespread and sustainable ways, without also addressing the problem of low adult literacy.  Communities who have participated in the Yes, I Can! Aboriginal Adult Literacy Campaign help us to understand a number of important issues, including, the extent of disenfranchisement that is associated with inadequate adult literacy, the enormity of the challenges faced by previously low-literate and disengaged people to re-engage in community life, the additional pressures placed on literate members of the community when many people have minimal literacy, and the relationship between low rates of adult literacy and the persistence of deficit thinking on the part of schools.

Author Biography

Ruth Ratcliffe, University of New England

Ruth Ratcliffe completed her Masters at the University of Newcastle in 2014 with her thesis entitled Functional and Critical Literacy in Yo Si Puedo: An Examination of Cuba's literacy program through a Freirean Lens. She is an activist researcher, teacher and mother.  She lives on Kaurna country, south of Adelaide.  Her research interests include adult literacy, critical literacy, Indigenous justice, climate change, social change and story-telling.  She is a PhD candidate at the University of New England, working with communities in north west NSW to examine the impacts of the Yes, I Can! literacy campaign.



19-02-2019 — Updated on 19-02-2019


How to Cite

Ratcliffe, R., & Boughton, B. (2019). The Relationship Between low Adult Literacy Levels and Aboriginal Family and Community Engagement in Educational Decision Making. Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 29(1), 1–16.