We want our kids to grow up and have Deadly Futures
It is widely known that early childhood education outcomes could be the key to better school outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The development and implementation of programs that focus on learning and education, and that are responsive to cultural worldview, is an effective way of working towards Closing the (education) Gap on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage, hence improving overall well–being.
Supporting our children’s learning
As an active approach to improve school outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, SNAICC completed an in-depth review of evidence-based resources targeted to support 0-5 development needs and developed a priority list of resources to share with educators to enhance their practice. A significant outcome of this process was how to connect the two systems so children can learn what they need for living in both worlds: formal education and their cultural context. Recognising and respecting cultural knowledge, skills, concerns and priorities in child rearing and development were identified as the first steps in this process.
As a result of the review, the Australian Abecedarian Approach (3a) was identified as one of the most suitable and effective evidence-based developmental interventions available. This was further supported and informed by the successful roll-out of Families as First Teachers Program (FAFT), which has been delivered in areas across the NT since 2013, as an alternative learning approach that enabled families to be involved alongside the educators in a variety of settings.
Background to 3a
The Abecedarian Approach was developed by Professor Joe Sparling from the USA and was first used when he was teaching second grade with low-economic populations. He thought young children would like to expand their vocabulary and master complex words. He developed a set of strategies that encourages conversation with the intention of interaction and learning. Since its inception, the approach has been studied and evaluated for over 30 years, predominantly in the USA. It is rare to have such a history of data that stretches over an extended period. The research results have followed babies from disadvantaged backgrounds through their early years, into school, higher education and their working lives. In Australia the Abecedarian Approach is known as 3a or the Abecedarian Approach Australia.
The word Abecedarian means “someone who is learning the rudiments” or, as explained in the training workshop, someone who is learning the building blocks of learning such as the ABCs, etc. The approach developed by Sparling has been used across many contexts and has been validated in different types of programs including center-based, home visiting, family daycare, parenting courses, etc. For Deadly Futures, 3a is used as an approach to integrate culture and everyday routines as a learning and education tool for our children, educators and family.
When implementing 3a, interactions need to be individual, frequent, and intentional in order to have a strong positive effect on child development. In the context of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) educators are continuously promoting children’s learning through worthwhile and challenging experiences and interactions that foster high-level thinking skills. They use strategies such as modeling and demonstrating, open questioning, speculating, explaining, engaging in shared thinking and problem solving to extend children’s thinking and learning. 3a encourages these processes as it is aligned with the EYLF and National Quality Standards (NQS).
Research data from one of the Abecedarian longitudinal studies identified 6 per cent of the children who did not receive the Abecedarian approach have graduated with a 4-year university degree – but the equivalent demographic who received the Abecedarian approach in the early years have a 23 per cent university graduation rate. This is similar to the general population (age 18-65 years) university graduation rate in Australia.
The research also identified that the approach positively influenced the carers to use rich oral language, purposefully support the children’s vocabulary development, and their responsiveness to the children. These are key skills for early childhood educators.
3a in practice
The approach has 4 elements:
- Language Priority
- Enriched Caregiving
- Conversational Reading
It should be acknowledged that 3a is not a curriculum. It is a set of strategies and resources – and it can be used with any curriculum – or even without a curriculum.
However, most importantly, family is seen to be the crucial factor which supports children’s learning and provides a vital environment to successfully prepare children for lifelong learning.
Understanding two worlds
As a way of recognising and respecting cultural knowledge, skills, concerns and priorities in child rearing and development, its is important to understand how these are approached for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the non-Indigenous populations in their learning and education environments. Their learning is based on their worldview.
In general terms, a worldview is “an individual’s point of view or outlook” as defined by the Macquarie Dictionary. This view or outlook links to a complex system of attitudes, values and life experiences, which develop within a particular cultural context. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is fundamentally based around their relationship to Country. Traditionally, this relationship relies on an extensive and detailed knowledge about their homelands that has been handed down through the generations in that place and is an important component of their worldview. While a worldview is founded on beliefs about Country as the source of all life, and emotional attachment to Country, it also holds a deep ecological and spiritual knowledge for each Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person known as Dreamings. These are carried, told and re-told, enabling individuals, families and communities to know where they have come from, their purpose and where they are heading.
In broad terms, Aboriginal worldview can be characterised by the ways in which it contrasts with
Western ways of viewing and acting in the world, as illustrated in the table below. Group obligations, responsibilities and belonging to Country and kin are particularly relevant, as are the different understandings and ways of learning, specifically how culture and knowledge are passed on.
|Aboriginal Worldview||Western Worldview|
|Dreaming||Religious and scientific|
|Unchanging||Process and change|
|Land custodians maintain and preserve the land, air, sea and animals||Land ownership (bought and sold)|
|Health – holistic and relational, spiritual cause behind the illness and/or injury; traditional healers and bush medicine||Measuring, counting, analysing and dissecting
Health and well-being, and death are separate
|Oral – passed through kinship systems||Written – books and documents|
|Societal emphasis is on group obligations and responsibility||Individualism|
|High value on belonging (to Country and kin)||Independence|
|Resources shared||Resources earned and paid for|
|Non-hierarchical/consensus||Hierarchical – status through achievement, corporate success, academic achievement|
|Knowledge of life||Academic, research, business, technological, economic|
|Use of time – relationship is priority and time taken is less important||Use of time – efficient, cost-effective, outcome driven|
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a perspective on living (or worldview) grounded in cultural beliefs that modern Western perspectives do not support or understand, and consequently are not beneficial to their preferred way of living (holistically) that includes their social, emotional, cultural, and spiritual well-being. While maintaining many aspects of their worldview, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives are marked by an additional range of cross-cultural influences that have emerged over many decades of contact history and have contributed to a sense of disempowerment, alienation, and disease as a result of colonisation.
Another way of reasoning and differentiating Aboriginal and Western understandings, also relates to education and learning approaches. This draws on the idea that, for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, education and learning is like living in two worlds: growing up in a world of circles, and being forced to live in a world of squares. This experience is generally not a good fit. The circles and squares can also represent a set of misunderstandings and disjuncture relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s worldview and their experience of not fitting into Western approaches to education and learning.
Families involved in educating their children provide a head start in school
In considering this worldview, 3a is designed to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children a better chance at succeeding in school. Reflective of traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practices, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders, parents, carers, uncle, aunts, etc. are our first teachers and have handed down their knowledge in forms that are within their worldview. These methods are more illustrative, using narratives and visual activities, where paintings and other forms of artwork on rocks, bark, carvings, and now canvas are used to educate and tell stories describing and recording experiences. 3a reinforces these illustrative approaches, giving educators and families a richer set of ideas that encourages, as well as builds on, the attachment relationship between the child and the adult in the learning process. Therefore, the development and delivery of Deadly Futures enhances these cultural worldviews (such as family strengthening and attachment, country and kin, developing cultural supports and activities) while learning.
The loss of such family attachments “may prevent these children from achieving their full potential, attaining cultural identity, developing a conscience, becoming self-reliant, coping with stress and frustration, and knowing the importance of family and relationships”.
For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, learning issues have had negative impacts and are experienced due to different worldviews across:
- Education and curriculum
- Culture and language
- Child welfare
Nevertheless, 3a builds confidence in learning. For educators working alongside families, the use of literacy and language are enhanced by increased exposure to conversational reading sessions. Nevertheless, to share cultural knowledge about child rearing and development, it is important to identify what is important in each community’s cultural knowledge and how educators support this development in their programs and service. By applying this information, the aim is to make sure learning processes do not confuse difference with deficit.
Applying a cultural lens to learning
SNAICC is strongly committed to developing resources that reflect positive cultural identity and connection to Country for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. The development and delivery of Deadly Futures is seen as an effective approach to improve school outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. It is a good way to bring history to life and inform the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live today and for all children to learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
Building on the 3a approach, Deadly Futures brings the cultural lens to learning and, for educators, it provides a way to review their educational and cultural approaches aligned with the ELYF and developmental learning outcomes for children in their service aligned with the NQS. The Deadly Futures program draws on SNAICC’s research, experience and the 3a approach, to support the five interconnected cultural capabilities for learning and education:
- Cultural respect: critically analyse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing, being and doing in context of history (locally and nationally), culture and diversity (e.g. child rearing practices and how education affirms and protects these factors).
- Culturally safe communication: to use language where possible. The principles of culturally appropriate, safe and sensitive communication that facilitates trust and building of respectful relationships and effective partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- Cultural safety and quality: apply strength-based best-practice approaches such as 3a to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learning and education. Knowing learning difference not as a deficit – culture is strength.
- Critical reflection in cultural contexts: ensuring services and staff professional development and practices is aligned with the EYLF, NQS and Early Childhood Australia (ECA) deliverables as well as SNAICC’s A Place for Culture training program.
- Advocacy in cultural contexts: how learning and education sectors are responsible for improving educators’ toolkit and building connections in community.
In practice, 3a gives educators and families attending playgroups and early years services the tools to teach through play and conversational reading using resources such as bi-lingual books, the NT LearningGames, and other resources which are aimed at building knowledge and bringing new words into their vocabulary. Deadly Futures supports the development of educational resources and practices for educators, such as community-developed tools for strengthening and maintaining cultural knowledge and practice related to child development and child rearing for each community. This includes activities conducted in the preferred language of participants and a collaborative process with educators guided by senior community members and Elders, used throughout all stages of program delivery.
3a, alongside cultural learning, brings intentional teaching through conversation. It is a way to bridge working across the two worlds, to enable a deeper understanding of cultural knowledge (including identity), which in turn gives resilience and strength, and a head start in school.
As an interactive training program, Deadly Futures is an easy-to-use learning approach that consists of practical tips and resources designed to assist educators and organisations to select, adopt, and implement early intervention practices and activities in their services and programs. The approach is designed to improving early childhood development outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families who need additional learning and other supports. It offers opportunities to capture everyday behaviour or routine activities, which can help define the very patterns of people’s lives, relationships and culture. Examples include observations of cultural and social relations such as reading and using Country as your book; improving relationships such as attachment between adult and the child based on their cultural child-rearing practices; or using everyday activities, and other living behaviours (e.g. hunting, cooking, male and female roles) in the home and community. All these are relatable to the child, while providing a cultural illustrative story that is alive and ever-evolving as they develop and grow.
Deadly Futures is a one-day training workshop for early years educators, playgroups, families and community. The training program aims to improve early childhood development outcomes of particularly vulnerable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children by supporting parents and carers to use proven strategies to increase their children’s social, emotional and educational development. It is designed:
- to encourage and increase cultural communication styles (e.g. language used, other verbal and non-verbal interactions) with our children (e.g. narratives, stories, dance, art, etc.)
- to raise awareness and understanding of each others cultural learning approaches (i.e. how things are different in each community)
- to create opportunities for two-way relationship building.
Since the development of the Deadly Futures training in May 2016, trial sites in WA, Qld and Vic. were delivered. This enabled us to unpack the evidence-based resources with playgroup leaders and educators to explore the relevance of materials and how educators can use the resources most effectively. After a review and roll-out of a further nine training workshops nationally – and due to word of mouth – we have had an overwhelming response from services wanting training in 2017. At the same time, an Advisory Expert Panel across states was engaged to review the Deadly Futures Training Package.
The one-day Deadly Futures training includes:
- Cultural safety
- History, culture and child rearing practices
- Defining 3a (Abecedarian Approach Australia) alongside a cultural lens
- Quality approaches to and how to use 3a in ECEC environment (which has been shown to deliver enhanced educational outcomes by enriching educator practice with a strong focus on cultural knowledge and language acquisition)
- Aligning 3a to national policy context: EYLF, NQS
- 3a in practice with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children (consisting of four elements: Language Priority, LearningGames, Conversational Reading, and Enriched Caregiving
- ECEC planning and evaluation
Deadly Futures adopts a holistic approach, bringing a cultural pedagogic lens into the curriculum-based learning space, as it is aligned with the Early Years Learning Framework and current National Standards. It is essential to be mindful of cross-cultural educational methods that incorporate both an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander holistic worldview, and formal education approaches to improve early childhood development outcomes.