Early childhood is a critical time for positively and effectively influencing children’s developmental and learning pathways, and these years should be the focus on closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, research shows.
Researchers, including A/Professor Sharon Goldfeld and Doctor Tim Moore from Murdoch Childrens, wrote a paper for the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), which highlighted that developmental and educational gaps related to social disadvantage emerge early in a child’s life, and remain and increase over children’s schooling lives.
The review emphasized a need for early learning programs tailored to Indigenous children’s’ specific needs, but said more research is needed to determine the best format of these programs.
The paper, which reviewed a magnitude of research on indigenous and non-indigenous early learning programs, showed indigenous children start school with relatively higher levels of developmental disadvantage, particularly related to literacy and numeracy skills, and this educational gap widens over time.
The review showed high-quality education and care programs in the years before school can help reduce this disadvantage; however Indigenous children generally have lower utilisation of these programs compared with non-Indigenous children. It showed a number of factors which contribute to this, including socioeconomic factors, history and cultural issues, staffing and program quality and availability of services.
The paper stated the uptake of these programs by Indigenous families is enhanced when services are developed in partnership with local communities, are welcoming and respectful of families, and value the strengths of Indigenous children. The report also showed input from Indigenous leadership and the community is vital for developing culturally relevant programs.
A/Professor Sharon Goldfeld said while there has been a lot of research done in early learning programs, the bulk wasn’t Indigenous-specific.
“There have not been any rigorous trials of targeted early learning programs in Australia, particularly for Indigenous children. There is an acute need for Australian-based studies to determine the most effective models within the Australian context, in particular for indigenous children,” she said.
“Designing and implementing early learning programs for Indigenous children requires a process that goes beyond simply taking into account what has worked elsewhere. The process of implementation will need to consider all of the aspects that make Indigenous children, families and communities unique.”
The paper, along with two others which look at effective programs and services for early childhood development in Indigenous communities is available on the on the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse website: http://www.aihw.gov.au/closingthegap/