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Opening minds through literature

Rosemary Johnston

Literacy, to Professor Rosemary Johnston, is about more than reading and writing.

"There are many ways of being literate, but we all need to be able to participate in our own national community – everyone needs to be able to read, write, speak and listen. Literacy relates to, and is influenced by, health, parenting, communities, cultures of influence, and government policies."

It was less than two years ago that Johnston was inspired through her research on the Australian Research Council-funded project, New Ways of Doing School, by issues facing remote communities, which extended beyond her expertise in education. She set about establishing a multi-disciplinary group to tackle the issues together.

"I campaigned around the University for people who were interested, from nursing, law, business, design, all of whom, from their own different perspective, have some sort of passion for children and youth. Then we went for community support."

Just eight months later, in October last year, the UTS Australian Centre for Child and Youth: Culture and Wellbeing (ACCY) opened as part of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and Thérèse Rein, wife of then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, launched its Literate Australia umbrella project.

The centre integrates technology, research, teaching and practice. "Our challenge is to make school appropriate to all the kids in Australian society," says Johnston, who is supported by a high-profile advisory board including Neil Jackson of Microsoft; David Gallop of the National Rugby League (NRL); Vicki Jack of Rio Tinto; and musician James Morrison.

"There are personal reasons, there are reasons for the individuals concerned, but there are also national reasons for engaging children in literacy," says Johnston.

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