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Looking for the X factors in Indigenous early education

Early education for Indigenous students should begin from a place of strength, by focusing on students’ potential, interests, abilities, knowledge and capacities, rather than their limits.

Good school and community partnerships are essential in connecting Indigenous cultures with school cultures delegates at ACER’s Research Conference 2017 in Melbourne will hear in late August.  According to ACER Research Fellow Gina Milgate, partnerships provide opportunities for schools to contribute to the social capital of the Indigenous community of which they are a part, and for the community to help build the cultural capital of schools.

‘Teachers can learn from families about the background, aspirations and strengths of the Indigenous learner. Likewise, families can learn about ways they can support their child to learn at home,’ Ms Milgate said.

‘Schools can help build connections by building resources that are related to Indigenous people and cultures to benefit all learners, staff and the community; employing Indigenous people in a range of roles; and empowering Indigenous people by working with them to develop ideas, strategies and projects.’

Associate Professor Karen Martin from Griffith University and Stuart Fuller from Cherbourg State School in Queensland, who will speak at ACER’s Research Conference 2017, were involved in a research project into early childhood education, which included a small case study of early childhood and early years education programs in two regions of Queensland to understand the ways teachers contextualise curriculum for young Aboriginal learners.

‘Our aim was to identify how teachers adjust and contextualise curriculum, pedagogy and assessment for young Indigenous Australian learners,’ Associate Professor Martin said ahead of the conference.

‘Our research indicates the “X factors” with high impact on the learning of young Indigenous Australian children are: the contexts; praxis; expectations and experience. This is strengthened when school leaders, and teachers, and parents, share expectations about the curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.

‘These small and seemingly insignificant X factors of the present could be the benchmarks of the future.

‘We have identified some core elements such as curriculum competence that would occur in any educational setting, but then we also identified features that emerge out of their particular contexts. In these programs, where Indigenous children are involved, this includes cultural competence.’

Some of the X factors identified in the Cherbourg State School pre-prep program were:

  • investment in a level of staffing above requirements,
  • employment of male Aboriginal staff members
  • the intentional and explicit contextualisation of the curriculum
  • pedagogy that is learner-focused, and
  • pedagogy that specifically focuses on demystifying the culture of the classroom for children.

According to Associate Professor Martin and Mr Fuller, the X factors that make a difference for Aboriginal children’s learning in early childhood education can seem insignificant. ‘Findings from the case studies indicate that it is crucial for school leaders to recognise important X factors such as understanding and addressing regulatory expectations whilst also developing programs for teaching and documenting children’s learning,’ Mr Fuller said.

‘Regulations can affect how educators contextualise their work in both positive and negative ways. School leaders need to recognise the level of regulatory burden in early childhood education programs so that they are able to provide the resources and support necessary if educators are to contextualise curriculum, teaching and assessment,’ Mr Fuller said. ‘Regulations should not be an excuse to lower expectations.’

Further X factors identified by Associate Professor Martin and Mr Fuller include:

  • the ways educators apply their professional knowledge to meet system expectations in the context of their classrooms without necessarily focusing on ‘gaps’ or deficits
  • teaching and learning decisions that occur in and across the classroom, year level, school and community
  • teaching and learning decisions that demonstrate curriculum competence and engender and facilitate cultural competence. ■

Further information:

Associate Professor Martin and Mr Fuller will be speaking at ACER’s Research Conference 2017, which addresses the theme, ‘Leadership for Improving Learning: Insights from research,’ from 27 to 29 August at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

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