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Research Feature: Investigating the relationship between indigenous children's ear health and phonological awareness

Hearing plays an important role in learning to read, write and communicate, and difficulties with hearing may impact a child's phonological awareness, which is the ability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words. Phonological awareness is an important precursor to literacy.

CCD researcher Professor Katherine Demuth and her collaborators are investigating the relationship between the hearing of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory and their performance on early literacy activities. Their goal is to provide evidence-based advice for teachers and parents to enhance the language and literacy skills of Aboriginal children.

In August 2017, Assoc Prof Mridula Sharma (Macquarie University) and Professor Gillian Wigglesworth (University of Melbourne) along with five Masters of Clinical Audiology students and renowned Audiology Clinical Educator, Mr Oskars Stubis, travelled to the Northern Territory. There, the team tested over 50 Indigenous school children aged 5-11 years to determine their hearing and auditory processing ability as well as their phonological awareness. The preliminary results suggest that the children's phonological awareness increases with age and that Indigenous children tend to have significantly poorer hearing than the greater population. A small number of children were identified as having ear infections and were referred for further appraisal. However, there appeared to be a weak relationship between listening abilities and their phonological awareness results. Because this was a small study, further assessments will be done in 2018. The results of this ongoing research may help to uncover some of the factors that impact school readiness in Indigenous children.

In 2018, the team will focus on understanding the listening challenges of children in remote communities and the potential effects this may have on learning. It is intended that the results will be used as a translational guide for the iHearing Program (NT Department of Health), facilitating the development of more appropriate resources and programs to enhance Aboriginal children's learning with English as a second language.

Researcher with child taking literacy test.

Clinical audiology Master's student, Madeleine Pearson, working with a child.

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