The issue of consistently low educational outcomes for Indigenous Australians often shines the spotlight on the early childhood sector. But as CELA writer Margaret Paton explores, the problem begins with low participation rates for Aboriginal children in early learning, an area Ngroo Education in NSW has been working on solidly for seven years with some outstanding and inspiring results.
A non-profit organisation, Ngroo Education, based in western Sydney, has just run another program through 136-government funded preschools in NSW. It’s the popular Walking Together model, an evidence-based approach to improving outcomes for Aboriginal children in early childhood education. Thousands of educators across NSW have completed the program, which can be undertaken remotely working through resources that Ngroo provides.
Jan Wright founded Ngroo Education in 2008 and is still at the helm. She says the name Ngroo means ‘to be included’ in the Yorta Yorta language. Within a year of starting their program at an early learning service in their home suburb, Tregear, preschool enrolments jumped from nine to 45 children.
“To this day that service has 45 children on average attending,” says Wright.
“All the things that were put in place in those early years, led by Aboriginal people from within the service, have survived even though other people are now leading the program.”
Walking Together forges stronger pathways
Walking Together includes assistance for services to identify and remove access barriers, improve engagement with the local Aboriginal community, write an action plan and work with Aboriginal children on a cultural kit of play-based activities such as pre-writing, recognising letter systems, matching, counting, sorting and classifying to better prepare them for school.
The program, in brief:
delivers training for non-Aboriginal service staff to assist them in their work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and communities. The course is delivered by Aboriginal trainers and Elders and includes a focus on Aboriginal cultural practices and Aboriginal ways of communicating. Post-training and mentoring packages are included to ensure the training has been effective and that culturally appropriate service practice is applied.
The primary clients of the training packages are early childhood services and preschools with a growing interest from a range of agencies working in the community management sector.
Inclusion through understanding and action
The results have just come in from the most recent program, which involved 1,355 Aboriginal children working through the activities over four to six months in 2017. According to Wright, it was important for educators to find out where the children needed further assistance, because we can’t change what we don’t know about the issues of school readiness of Aboriginal children.
Indications are that 456 Aboriginal children have enrolled as a result of the program and government subsidies.
The Walking Together program has been watched closely for wider application not only by the NSW Government – which partners with Ngroo -but also the Australian Government’s Institute of Family Studies (AIFS). During its Knowledge Circles project, AIFS nominated Walking Together as a promising practice model.
…there are good things going on in each state
Jan Wright, Ngroo Education
Multiple approaches needed to reach all families
Wright says Aboriginal people are overlooked in the history of this country and argues history accounts for the current situation many Aboriginal people find themselves in.
“It makes them really wary about engagement particularly in government institutions such as education and health services,” she says.
Wright, who is a mother to Aboriginal children, argues that to truly engage and be inclusive we have to listen and work respectfully together creating trust.
The Walking Together model “works well and can be used in a variety of ways”, but isn’t a one-size-fits-all for Australia as “there are good things going on in each state”, she continues.
“There’s very good work happening in Victoria, in Western Australia and Queensland – in fact all over Australia.
“It’s a collective view – we all look at each other’s practices and how we can be respectful and relevant to the local community.”
Grants and scholarships
Ngroo Education has been invited to apply for a grant for the national Connected Beginnings Program with the aim of being a lead agency bringing together services covering health, education and wellbeing in the Mt Druitt region. The Federal Government is funding 12 sites across the country where the Aboriginal community would decide what’s best practice for local Aboriginal children to improve transitioning to school with programs from birth to five years.
NSW Aboriginal Early Childhood Education Scholarships
In NSW, Aboriginal Early Childhood Education Scholarships are on offer for Indigenous people keen to study a four-year early childhood teaching degree. They can be prospective students or currently enrolled and don’t necessarily have to be already working in the sector to apply. There are 15 scholarships available with each worth up to $20,000. They’ll be available from next year through to 2018. Apply via SmartyGrants through to 31 January 2018.
For more information on the eligibility criteria and how to apply, email aboriginalprogramsECED@det.nsw.edu.au or call 1300 755 426.
Featured image: “Marella Out of Hiding Ceremony – Nana Gracie Shillingsworth Ash Wright and Aunty Rita Wright – Image credit Glenn Lockitch”
Meet the author
Bec Lloyd is the founder and managing director of Bec & Call Communication, providing professional writing, editing and strategy services to the school and early childhood education sector since 2014. In 2018 she launched UnYucky mindset and menus for happier family mealtimes. Formerly the communications lead at ACECQA and BOS (now NESA), Bec is a journo and mother of three who produces Amplify for us at Community Early Learning Australia.