The ABC’s of listening and learning

An audiology student assessing a child’s hearing
An audiology student assessing a child’s hearing

It is widely recognised that Indigenous children have serious ear issues with a much higher proportion of Indigenous children experiencing middle ear disorders earlier in life, and for longer periods, than their non-Indigenous counterparts. g listening challenges can have implications for academic achievement and future health and well-being, despite normal hearing thresholds. This collaborative pilot between Jill Wigglesworth and Mridula Sharma and Katherine Demuth from Macquarie University, takes number of Macquarie audiology students on their practicums to remote communities where they evaluate the hearing/listening skills Indigenous children. The team also administers the Foundations of Early Literacy Assessment (FELA), require by NT Education, to all the children. Any children who have ear health issues at the time of testing are referred to local health services for further assessment. During 2019 over 150 children in four schools across the Northern Territory were tested, and the project has now been funded through an ARC Linkage grant (LP200100380) with the Northern Territory Department of Education as industry partner which will enable testing of children in another nine schools. The project has several benefits. All children in the lower levels of school have their ear health and hearing assessed and contributes to the school by undertaking the time-consuming individual FELA testing. But the project also introduces audiology students to Indigenous children living in remote communities where they may one day work. At each school professional development sessions for teachers and teaching assistants to inform them about ear health and managing noise in classrooms.

The FELA test being conducted
The FELA test being conducted

The extension of the project to include an additional nine schools will allow additional variables to be considered with the project including very remote schools, regional schools (eg in Alice Springs, Katherine) and provincial schools (eg Darwin and Palmerston) and will also cover the different climactic conditions of the north and the south of the Northern Territory.

This project will contribute to understanding the effects of pervasive otitis media and related hearing loss on Indigenous children’s listening and pre-literacy skills, and determine how to better identify those at most risk for poor educational outcomes. Hopefully the project will lead to policy recommendations to help improve the children’s learning potential.

Project details


Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant (LP200100380) with the Northern Territory Department of Education as industry partner

Chief Investigators

Mridula Sharma, Macquarie University
Jill Wigglesworth, University of Melbourne
Katherine Demuth, Macquarie University