Kindling an indigenous readership
Daniel Billing and his children Luka,10 and Hannah,16 packing kindles to send to indigenous children all over the country this term. Photo: Melissa Adams
Canberra public servant Dan Billing would like to say thank-you. In late December, The Canberra Times featured a story on Mr Billing’s indigenous reading project – a plan to improve indigenous reading standards by giving students a Kindle in an effort to boost their interest in reading.
The project was in its infancy – Mr Billing and his friends had cobbled together about $4000 in donations to trial 20 Kindles throughout the country.
Since publication, however, the idea has taken off. The project has received $20,000 in donations from around Australia and support from London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles over the past month. Mr Billing said: ‘‘My phone has not stopped ringing. I have just been blown away by people’s generosity.’’
As a bureaucrat within the federal Education Department who specialises in student engagement and indigenous education, Mr Billing said his idea was forged by his frustration with the widening lag in indigenous reading standards.
He decided he needed to look outside the box and start up his own sort of intervention. The idea to supply struggling indigenous readers with their own Kindle has a neat hook – students must measurably improve their reading in order to keep their e-reader.
Last year, the trial’s preliminary results were encouraging.
Students were chosen based on their teacher’s recommendation and because they were at or below national benchmarks in literacy – although not so low that they could not be independent readers. They were measured on fluency and comprehension by their teachers at the start of the program and at the end.
Mr Billing said just one student out of the 20 had failed to demonstrate commitment or improvement to keep their Kindle, and another three had dropped out of the program when they moved to other communities.
Most of the children increased their weekly reading time by 154per cent, while reading fluency increased by 51per cent and reading comprehension scores were up by 43per cent.
Since the money started flowing, Mr Billing has been sourcing the 100 Kindles he plans to distribute. Some have been donated – from as far away as Perth and as close as a neighbour.
As the school year gets under way, Mr Billing is calling on all principals of indigenous students aged between 10 and 15 to consider applying for a Kindle. ‘‘My message to principals is if they have kids struggling with reading but motivated enough to try a new approach using technology – get in touch with us.
‘‘We need these students to have motivated teachers willing to work with us, too, as teacher involvement is critical to the success of the program.’’
For $3.50 a week or $15 a month, you can sponsor a child at irp.org.au.