Literacy is a human right essential for health and wellbeing according to award-winning researcher, Melissa Derby.
The University of Canterbury researcher is positioning literacy as a human right linked with health and wellbeing, community engagement, cultural imperatives and lifelong learning; and making a difference in the lives of the children participating in the study.
The doctoral candidate’s lifelong passion for reading, coupled with her strong interest in Māori development and human rights, has culminated in her doctoral research which explores emerging literacy in bilingual (te reo Māori and English) preschool children.
Derby recently won the Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Graduate Award to undertake postgraduate research in the United States in the field of indigenous development. She is going to research critical theories of race, ethnicity and indigeneity at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, and at San Diego State University in San Diego, California, towards her University of Canterbury PhD.
Her thesis – which has the working title Ko te kai a te rangatira he kōrero: Restoring Māori literacy narratives to create contemporary stories of success – will contribute to the Literacy strand of A Better Start: E Tipu e Rea National Science Challenge.
“We know what skills children need to be strong in before they learn to read so I am very happy to be employing a strengths-based approach in my study. I am working with preschool children to develop their skills so that they start primary school with the best possible chance of success in reading and writing,” says Derby.
“When the written word first arrived in Aotearoa, Māori were enthusiastic, exuberant and extremely successful in adopting this new skill. I am drawing on this narrative of success in order to offer an alternative to the deficit discourse that is so often used in relation to Māori education and achievement.”
Derby believes literacy plays a key role in cultivating self-determination for Māori.
“My thesis is also unfolding as a platform to promote global human rights and self-determination, particularly for Indigenous people. I argue that literacy is a human right that is key to accessing other human rights associated with health and wellbeing, community engagement, cultural imperatives and lifelong learning. Ultimately, it is my hope that my research makes a difference in the lives of the children who are participating in my study, and that they will find enjoyment in reading, just like I did as a child.”
Her Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Graduate Award will help to further her research. Derby and her three-year-old son, Te Awanui Derby (both pictured), will travel to the United States in August.