Ever since she was a little girl Isabel Osuna-Gatty wanted to help people, especially those who were disadvantaged. Her life’s work in language, literacy and numeracy teaching is testimony to her success in achieving this goal and has earned her the highest accolade, the Excellence in Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) Practice Award at the 2016 Australian Training Awards.
“I like to go where things are difficult, and that’s especially the case where I work in the Northern Territory where the needs are so great and there is so much disadvantage,” she said. “For me it’s an honour to be able to help Aboriginal people take the next step—whether it’s getting a job or understanding how to fill out a Centrelink form. Empowering them is what keeps me going.”
Isabel was initially involved in adult literacy provision in her native Venezuela and went on to teach in various language, literacy and numeracy programs shortly after arriving in Australia in 2001. After five years’ volunteering in remote Yuendumu in the Northern Territory, she accepted a teaching role with the Bachelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education and is now a Senior Lecturer in Foundation Skills.
While Isabel acknowledges that progress in making inroads into improving literacy in Indigenous communities can be painfully slow, the rewards that flow from her work are great.
“The pay-off for me is that the majority of the students I have worked with have got a better job or got themselves into a better position in life. I say to my students that people might take your land or your home but one thing no-one can take from you is your education and your capacity to read and write. To teach someone to read and write is the best gift you can give to anyone.”
Isabel passionately believes that ‘literacy is everyone’s business’ and wants to use her award to raise awareness of the need to work together to tackle low literacy across the country.
“When I first arrived here I was struck by the reliance on funding as a pre-requisite for action. In Venezuela, no-one gave us money, we rolled up our sleeves, went out to the communities and got on with it. I believe it’s not the role of government, private enterprise or other agencies—it’s up to the individual and the community to take responsibility. We need to think differently, we need to change the culture.”
While she is on a mission for attitudinal and cultural change, Isabel also wants to use her award to heighten awareness and appreciation of the value of apprenticeships. “An apprenticeship is not a second choice, it’s an equal choice. A lot of people don’t appreciate that it’s taken four years of very hard work for their plumber or electrician to train and qualify. The Australian Training Awards showcase the benefits of doing an apprenticeship and it’s especially important for young people to know how inspiring and empowering a VET career can be.”