Author: Cecilia Jacob – Educator Support Officer
Date: 4 December 2019
As an early childhood professional who has called Australia home for the last 22 years, many times I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on my own identity within the Australian culture. As an Anglo-Indian-Australian raising my own children and being in a position to influence numerous young children to develop social consciousness and attitudes, I share this privilege with the children’s families and the wider community.
There is one aspect of this melting pot of influences that is gaining momentum currently in the Early Childhood Education and Care sector. It is the understanding, acknowledgement and embracing of the Aboriginal and Torres State Islander culture and the commitment to working towards Reconciliation.
In the past, the Early Childhood sector has always incorporated aspects of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait cultures, but these were reserved for specific times of the year. For example, activities such as dot painting or cooking damper during NAIDOC Week. Educators only saw the value of this as part of ticking a box to being ‘culturally competent’. This tokenistic portrayal of people and culture and the absence of the Aboriginal culture in everyday settings only increased the divide. It further ‘normalised’ and unintentionally placed a separatist’s undertone as something different to the normal, even ‘foreign’ on Aboriginal culture. The lack of knowledge and historical acceptance was in so many ways detrimental to moving forward in true respect and eliminating the stereotypical “tipping-the-hat” to our first people, the oldest surviving culture to date.
The knowledge of the history and timeline of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are full of holes due to this subject not having a prominent place in the educational curriculum. It is also because our country is always growing, changing and is home to a number of increasing cultures and immigrants. I have learnt it is okay if you are unsure of the history, timeline and stories of the Aboriginal people, so long as you have a genuine commitment to understand, make a change and take action towards reconciliation.
We now live in an exciting time where the introduction of the Early Years Learning Framework some ten years ago has forced us to examine our practice and critically reflect on our own knowledge, biases, views and actions. In order to achieve this we must first acknowledge the history, struggles and journey of the Aboriginal people. Our pedagogy must reflect this commitment to reconciliation and it is up to each of us to take responsibility for leading and bringing it to fruition. Reconciliation is constantly growing together and this needs a genuine heart and commitment. Our young children are amazingly perceptive and receptive when it comes to learning from a genuine heart and responding to embedded and consistent commitment. We have come a long way from ticking a box for cultural competence to unpacking the true intention behind the Quality Standards QA6: Collaborative Partnerships with Families and Communities; EYLF Principle 4. Respect for Diversity and; the Practice of Cultural Competence where we value and honour the histories, cultures, languages, traditions, child rearing practices and lifestyle choices of families.
So what can we do to lead this change and what is our role in helping the children in our care to embrace and manoeuvre the reconciliation journey? To bring about quality learning outcomes for all children, specifically towards identity and a sense of security that comes from a place of belonging, you can further explore Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali program that supports early childhood educators. This site covers practical strategies on how you can establish relationships with your local Aboriginal community, welcome different perspectives and build a curriculum of equity that crosses over all areas of learning. For example, creating a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), gaining knowledge through learning and having access to training and implementing this is every day practice. This could be through giving importance to Aboriginal language and incorporating simple words and phrases, to exploring food, nature, the land and our seasons. Intergenerational playgroups are also an opportunity for challenging mindsets of some of our wider community regarding the first Australians and this is an opportunity to show them in the purest form how to be open, accepting and inclusive of all Australians.
This is a journey that we do not have to undertake alone. Every perspective counts, every voice must be heard, each difficult question must be answered. Some of our own perspectives on race-relation, equality, unity, respect, institutional integrity, political, educational and historical significance must be challenged to achieve a true understanding and shared national identity that embraces a reciprocal commitment to moving forward together. The important role of educating and influencing the next generation sits with us educators and I feel quite proud to be a part of this.