Embedding culture in sustainable ways


ACECQA’s National Education Leader
, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

We usually talk about sustainability in relation to the environment but it’s also relevant to the practice of cultural competence and embedding culture in sustainable ways in early childhood services.

The National Quality Framework (NQF) provides the foundation for culturally competent practice in education and care. One of the guiding principles is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued. Developing collaborative partnerships with local communities also supports Quality Area six of the NQS: Collaborative Partnerships with
Families and Communities.

Implementing sustainable cultural practices involves educators building positive relationships and providing culturally safe environments that foster genuine attitudes of inclusion and equity.

ACECQA spoke with Judith McKay-Tempest, a proud Wiradjuri woman and an Associate Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Macquarie University. Judith has a passion for making a difference for Aboriginal children in their formative years.

For educators to support agency they must be aware of the capabilities and interests of the children they work with. Children are competent, capable learners when they are fully engaged and supported to participate in meaningful learning experiences that follow their interests. These experiences can be planned or spontaneous.

Judith has found that many educators are apprehensive about embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into service practice. She feels this stems from ‘fear of doing the wrong thing’ or uncertainty about how to genuinely incorporate cultural experiences in ways that avoid stereotypes or the perception of tokenism.

Judith explained that developing culturally safe environments does not require educators to be experts in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being. Rather it requires educators to respect multiple ways of being and support a positive cultural identity for all families and children. Judith stresses that it is important for all children to engage in this learning, regardless of the presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children in the service.

Early childhood education and care settings can promote perspectives that support Aboriginal community’s own distinct culture such as understandings of their connection to place. This provides rich opportunities to build a culture of understanding and respect for the environment for all children.

Exploring the context of your service may include:

  • developing an awareness of the traditional custodians of the land and the language/s spoken,
  • working collaboratively with children, families and the local community to develop an ‘Acknowledgment of Country’ that signifies respect for Aboriginal culture, exploring the connectedness to the land and respect for community protocols,
  • caring for and learning from the land,
  • sensory exploration and responsiveness to the natural environment through play
  • exploration of how living things are interconnected and the interdependence between land, people, plants and animals,
  • developing collaborative partnerships and learning about places of cultural significance

Further reading and resources
Perspectives on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural competence
Understanding cultural competence
Cultural connections booklet
Indigenous Culture: It’s everybody’s business

Cultural Competence

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

Interacting with various cultures enriches our everyday lives. Building cultural competence in educators and children promotes equity, respect and valuing of different cultures. But as the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care show, cultural competence is much more than an awareness of cultural differences. It is the ability to understand, communicate and effectively interact with people across cultures and includes:

  • being aware of your own world view
  • developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences
  • gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views.

The frameworks also promote respect for diversity and equity. Strategies include:

  • reflecting on our personal biases
  • challenging discriminatory viewpoints
  • using resources that are culturally relevant
  • adapting curriculum to children’s ideas, interests and culture
  • drawing on the expertise of families and those belonging to a cultural group
  • inviting guests from a range of cultures to visit your service
  • using the reflective questions in the learning frameworks (EYLF pp.13, FSAC pp.11), such as ‘Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is
    disadvantaged?’.

Cultural competence also includes delivering a curriculum that respects the cultural identity, language and values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Significant value lies in spending time with your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Suggested ‘first steps’ are:

  • Make contact with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners and Corporations/ Co-operatives in your area
  • Find out if your jurisdiction has an Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, such as the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc
  • 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, for example NGROO Education Inc in NSW and the Indigenous Professional Support Units (IPSUs) and/or the Professional Support Coordinator across each state and territory.

Further reading and resources

Cultural Competence: Language Program Development
Children’s Services Central. Engaging with Aboriginal Communities: Where do we start?
Kidsmatter. Cultural diversity: Suggestions for families and educators
Cultural competence fact sheets for School Age Care.  My Time Our Place (for OSHC services)
Cultural Connections booklet