In 2017, Australian schools are reporting the highest number of enrolments of Indigenous kids ever. There’s an extra 32,000 Indigenous kids enrolling in kindergarten, pre-school and school across the country.
In New South Wales, new Indigenous student numbers in the kindergarten to year 2 age bracket have increased by 26% since 2010.
Stronger Smarter CEO Darren Godwell told NITV News: “That 26% increase of Koori kids, our jarjums, is a pretty large increase in a small amount of time, so part of our work at the Stronger Smarter Institute has been to help to help early childhood teachers and educators to get ready for this population bubble.”
For the Stronger Smarter Institute, there are a few pillars that could support positive schooling experience.
Have a great day
The Stronger Smarter Institute believes setting a positive first impression for the kids and for parents is fundamental in reducing skepticism and anxiety, especially in children who haven’t been to any type of early childhood care. The institute believes a good, happy first day of school helps ensure further attendance.
“For Indigenous parents and school children, it’s one of the standout influences over educational outcomes,” Mr Godwell says.
“Most children feel excited about starting school.”
“There’s always new friends, and there’s new rooms, new toys and new things to play with. Most kids are over the moon and can’t wait to get in there. By the end of the day they’re all pretty tired,” Mr Godwell adds.
As the number of Indigenous student enrolments is expected to rise over the next 3 years, the Stronger Smarter Institute says that professional educators need to be supported in what they do best – that is teaching. Classroom environments need to be created to produce the best outcomes for early childhood Indigenous kids.
“Educators are just like nurses, police and firemen and women: they are compassionate people... Early childhood educators treat their students, their jarjums as if they were their own.
“So that care and compassion, they’re values the Stronger Smarter Institute looks to support. We provide them with the specific skills which allow them to engage and allow them to work in cross-cultural environments.”
Foster inclusion in culturally-diverse classrooms
As Australian educational environments become more culturally diverse, the Stronger Smarter Institute believes the inclusion of Indigenous cultures is something that needs to be addressed.
For Mr Godwell, creating culturally safe spaces for people of different cultural backgrounds starts with the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents. This means engaging families, parents and carers, to create a supportive environment for the children.
“Stronger Smarter works around how to create a culturally safe space for the parents of those children. We feel it’s the sentiment and very much the level of confidence that the parents have in the teachers and the kindergarten, and then in the management of that space, that is passed onto the children,” he says.
The message to parents: get involved, be positive and read
The advice for Indigenous parents who wish to support their children to be the best they can be at school is to be positive about it. Children are very heavily influenced by the attitudes and the conversations they hear from their parents.
“You can take an interest in what happens in their day, and ask them how it went. You can also sit down with them and go through some of the things they did at kindergarten each day,” Mr Godwell says.
“Being able to read with kids in those early years is really, really important and it sends a lot of messages and reinforces a lot of positive behaviours.”
In a nutshell, parents can take an interest in what happens in the school day. At the end of the school day take an interest in the child. In the evening time you can sit down and read together. Very practical, straight forward advice that’s enjoyable for the whole family.
Test results aren't everything
This year’s new students will be met with a newly-introduced literacy and numeracy test announced last week. The Stronger Smarter Institute believes this type standardized testing is something that should be treated with caution.
“Kids develop at their own rate in those early years. In that space you don’t know what you’re measuring.
“What you can measure at the beginning in term 1 to versus term 4 can be quite dramatic … because of the developmental processes within the child, and not necessarily because of any shortcomings or any wonderful advances in your teaching abilities.”
Mr Godwell believes parents and teachers should take standardized test results with a grain of salt.
He explains most Scandinavian countries, which are among the best in the world for educational outcomes, don’t begin formal testing until much later in a student’s life - not until they are in their early teens.
“Some of the best countries in the world are actually not doing standardized testing until quite later in the child’s schooling and academic life. You’d obviously need to review the evidence why you would bring it in at such an early point.”
Testing Teachers features six teachers and three public schools, all with one aim: to make a difference in young lives. The documentary starts 19 April at 8.30pm on SBS and will be available on SBS On Demand after broadcast.
Dr Chris Sarra of Stronger Smarter will be appearing on The Point Education Special – Wednesday 19th April at 9:30pm on NITV straight after Testing Teachers.