As educators we have the potential to make a significant difference in National Reconciliation through our programs, practices and relationships, with the guidance of the National Quality Framework (NQF).
Cultures and histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be woven into the everyday practices and learning experiences at children’s education and care services. It’s more than displaying an Australian Aboriginal flag, or engaging children in dot painting.
Case study 1, within the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) National Quality Standard (NQS) Professional Learning Program (PLP), gives examples of how experienced educator, Adam Duncan, embeds history and culture into every day practice. Some examples include:
- acknowledging Country daily by focusing on ‘the history that children have had on this country, and relating the history of the land to the experiences of children’
- exploring literacy and storytelling by telling Dreaming stories, and
- utilising modern Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music and arts to achieve learning outcomes in the program.
I often meet non-Indigenous educators who express concern about ‘getting it wrong’ or being ‘tokenistic’ when embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in their educational programs.
A great way to work on embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in your service is to further your own understanding and connection with these cultures. Services may also identify the need to develop the cultural awareness of staff through their Quality Improvement Planning process.
Cultural competence and Reconciliation
The NQF guides educators to develop their own cultural competency and that of children. Fostering children’s understanding and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, and challenging biases can impact on children’s future attitudes towards cultural diversity. Educators are a crucial link between the rhetoric of Reconciliation and the reality of the vision fulfilled.
It is important to recognise that it is not only about seeing the easily identifiable parts of cultural identity such as language, dress and food in the program, but also the more hidden aspects which affect how we interact with the world.
For example, in Anglo-Australian culture it is polite to make eye contact when someone is speaking to you, but in some indigenous cultures, not making eye contact may be seen as a sign of respect. Educators’ practice should be reflective and inclusive so that children are not disadvantaged by an educator’s own views.
When services support the cultural identity, language and values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, it can significantly contribute to their positive sense of identity and wellbeing.
The NQF also encourages services to provide children with programs that suit their individual needs based on their current knowledge, ideas, culture, abilities and interests (NQS Element 1.1.2). The framework empowers educators to use teaching strategies which best suit the individual children, families and the local community of the service.
To effectively deliver inclusive programs educators must engage with the principles and practices of the approved learning frameworks including fostering secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships, partnerships with families and communities, high expectations and equity, respect for diversity and ongoing learning and reflective practice.
We must not underestimate the importance of gathering knowledge, ideas and input from families and communities in order to respectfully embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in a way which relates to the service’s community.
By drawing on community knowledge and expertise, you can enrich your learning program and ensure it captures local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and histories. Try these suggested ‘first steps’:
- Form respectful relationships with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners and Corporations/ Co-operatives in your area
- Attend community events and build respectful relationships to show that you are genuinely interested in getting to know more
- Find out if your jurisdiction has an Aboriginal Education Consultative Group
- Contact your State/Territory Education Department for referral to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander liaison workers
- Look up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander training or support providers in your area, and the Inclusion Support Agencies and/or the Professional Support Coordinator across your state or territory
- Be aware of cultural protocols. Protocols will vary in different areas. If you are going to be working with people from traditional and remote communities you can seek out locally based training or advice.
Culturally competent services also work to overcome barriers which prevent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from accessing quality education and care such as inflexible service provision, fees or lack of transport. In addressing these issues, services create a supportive and culturally safe environment for children to experience belonging, being and becoming.
The videos and resources listed below provide further insight into how educators can meaningfully embed indigenous culture into their service. Hear from experienced early childhood educators, Adam Duncan and Amy Tainsh and Judith Mckay-Tempest, an accomplished indigenous researcher and academic.
- Reconciliation and community involvement
- Tokenistic vs meaningfully embedding Aboriginal culture
- Critical reflection and having professional conversations
- Partnerships, page 12
- Respect for diversity, page 13
- Ongoing learning and reflective practice, page 13
- Cultural competence, page 16
- Ongoing learning and reflective practice, page 7- 9
- Partnerships, page 17– 20
- Cultural competence, page 21- 23
- Cultural competence in working with Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures page 24-29
- Ongoing learning and reflective practice, Story 1
- Cultural competence in working with Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, Story 8
- Cultural competence, Stories 14 and 16
- Partnerships, Stories 28 and 33
- Partnerships, page 10
- Respect for diversity, page 11
- Ongoing learning and reflective practice, page 11
- Cultural competence, page 15
- Ongoing learning and reflective practice, pages 6- 9
- Partnerships, page 11
- Cultural competence, page 57- 60
- Cultural competence in working with Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures page 61-66
 Nina Burridge Teaching Aboriginal Studies, Rhonda Craven 1999