In January 2016 the Department of Education and Training, through our refreshed Reconciliation Action Plan 2014–2017, committed to an Indigenous Early Learning Engagement Project.
The project involves developing strategies for early childhood services to engage with Indigenous communities, employ Indigenous educators and increase the overall levels of cultural understanding within services. By making services a more culturally inviting place for Indigenous families to bring their children, the project supports the Closing the Gap target of 95 per cent of all Indigenous four year-olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025.
In partnership with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Employment, and the Queensland Department of Education and Training, a pilot workshop was held in March 2016 at the Ngutana-Lui Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies Centre. This brought together some 95 stakeholders to consider contemporary issues and explore strategies to encourage greater participation of Indigenous children and families in early childhood services, including by increasing the employment of Indigenous educators in these services.
Hosted by respected Aboriginal educator, Dr Chris Sarra, the workshop focused on developing tangible strategies to improve participation. The workshop involved educators and directors from child care services across south-east Queensland, policy-makers, employment and training providers, peak bodies and other stakeholders.
A key theme was improving the cultural safety of early learning services by considering ways to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in the day-to-day operations of early learning services. Ngutana-Lui demonstrated examples of how services could do this by engaging participants in culture throughout the day including a Kup-Murri lunch, a collaborative Indigenous art project and tour of the venue.
Specific strategies developed during the workshop included:
- cultural awareness training for all educators
- recruitment of Indigenous educators, using vocational education and training centres and Jobactive services
- embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture into early learning services’ curricula, policies and practices
- allocating part of resource budgets to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander books, musical instruments and art supplies
- participating in key events such as Reconciliation Week, NAIDOC Week and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day
- using Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Schools and Early Learning program
- engaging and partnering with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
Building on the success of this pilot workshop, the department has engaged Shared Path Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation to deliver a further 31 workshops across Australia in 2016–17.
These additional workshops will be targeted at increasing cultural competencies by providing the services with tools and strategies to better engage with local Indigenous workers and families.
Image (top): ‘Connections’, a collaborative art piece led by Kevin Eastment from Ngutana-Lui Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies Centre made at the Indigenous Early Learning Engagement Workshop held in Brisbane on 22 March 2016, with handprints from early childhood education and care participants.