Alexander talks about his work during National Storytelling Week

Feb 05, 2016
Ben Parsons
This week in the UK is National Storytelling Week. Organised by the Society for Storytelling, the event aims to promote the oral tradition of storytelling.
Over in Australia one of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award winners of 2016, Alexander Stonyer-Dubinovsky has seen first-hand the importance of oral storytelling in the Indigenous community.
For the last two years he has been working to find a solution to the underperformance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in literacy. He co-founded Bawurra Foundation to help close the literacy gap, by celebrating Indigenous culture and making it a source of pride for students. The programme combines culturally significant stories from Indigenous elders with hand-held e-book technology, which is donated to school libraries that need it.
Here Alexander answers some questions about the importance of oral storytelling and how he is using it to help young people.

How did you come up with the idea for the Bawurra Foundation?

Each of our co-founders have a unique story about how they became aware of the literacy disadvantage of Indigenous children in Australia. It became a talking point between us and after a few heated discussions and consultations with Indigenous elders we came up with the idea of celebrating and sharing a rich storytelling history by building a digital library to share with schools across Australia. We each realised that new technologies have given us better access to literary materials which is why we use the Kindle device; its easy-to-use tactile interface provides an engaging reading experience for the student and an easy classroom tool for the teacher.

Why are stories so important to the Indigenous community?

The Indigenous people of Australia have been telling stories to pass on knowledge, tradition and culture for over 40,000 years with remarkable consistency. These stories document a variety of topics, from the creation of the world, to the explanation of local animals. Still to this day, storytelling is the only way to pass down the rich knowledge held by elders in Indigenous communities.

How are stories passed down through the generations?

Indigenous culture is passed down by stories which are told through spoken words, dance, song and artwork. This tradition has remained unchanged for generations and some stories even reference areas from the last ice age that are currently underwater.

How do stories from the Indigenous Elders help children to perform better at school?

We think local stories from Indigenous Elders will better engage Indigenous children into taking an active interest in reading. It´s exciting for students to see the landscapes or touch and smell leaves they hear about in a story in their own back garden. We´re trying to make children curious and proud of their local communities, which is good for school attendance and results.

How will the Queen’s Young Leaders Award help you with your work?

The Queen Young Leaders Award is an amazing opportunity to learn and share with other young social innovators. We are currently in the process of rolling out the Kindles to schools as part of our trial study and after this we plan on expanding the program nationally. At this crucial point in our organisation´s growth, I am excited to learn from other Award winners and experts. I hope to have new ideas and a stronger understanding of how to be an agent for positive social change.

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