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‘Literacy is Freedom’: Empowering Indigenous children to close the education and literacy gap

For more than 60,000 years, storytelling has been at the heart of Indigenous culture.
At Waranwarin Early Learning Centre in south-west Sydney, reading books together is a highlight of each day for the classes of young First Nations children.
With specialised learning programs supported by the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF), the centre is one of hundreds across the country helping to close the gap on Indigenous education.
“Our children actually love embracing the program,” says centre manager Jodie Bell. “We talk about Tommy Turtle, we talk about Arthur the puppet, as well as letters and sounds and other books.

“The relationship with literacy is there and it’s something that I think we can all be proud of as a community.”

Photo of Alinta Pencheff-Scott with preschool children.

Alinta Pencheff-Scott is an educator at the Waranwarin Early Learning Centre. Source: Supplied

Ms Bell says educators are also provided further training opportunities by ALNF, including a nationally accredited Certificate IV in Early Language and Literacy, which combines speech and language pathology and early years education.

“So it’s not just about coming out with resources, it’s about upskilling our community and making sure that our people have the skills to continue the relationship with early literacy and language, from our staff to our families, and our children.”
By incorporating traditional Aboriginal songs, stories and art, children are encouraged to share their own yarns as a way of gaining greater confidence in the classroom.
Educator Alinta Pencheff-Scott says the use of First Language with young children contributes to stronger literacy growth in English.
“At graduation time, I can honestly say they all leave confident and that’s the biggest thing because they come to you at such a vulnerable stage,” she says.

“You can see the confidence on their faces – that they’re ready to take on the next chapter of their lives at school.”

Closing the Gap reforms

Improving access to early childhood education is a key priority in Closing the Gap reforms.
By 2025, it’s hoped that 95 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children will be enrolled in pre-school.
It’s a target currently on track to be met with a steady increase in national enrolments among the cohort since 2016, when just 76.7 per cent were enrolled in the Year Before Full time Schooling (YBFS).
But advocates are pushing for more to be done to help those still falling through the cracks.
“The inequality between regional and remote communities in their access to early education compared to metropolitan areas is significant,” says Pamela Blaszczynski, ALNF Executive Trainer of the Early Literacy Program.
Children in many disadvantaged communities, she says, experience low levels of oral language development and are more vulnerable in language and cognitive skills than national averages.
“Education starts when children are born. If we don’t give children access to early education, then large gaps develop in their learning, and they take these gaps on to school which actually impacts many of them all the way through to the end of their schooling.”

To mark National Reconciliation Week, the ALNF has partnered with several high-profile celebrities to help spread the word, including footballer Adam Goodes, musician Danzal Baker, and Wiradjuri actor and Playschool presenter Luke Carroll.

Luke Carroll says he grew up with a love of literacy inspired by his late mother, Aunty Fay,

Luke Carroll says he grew up with a love of literacy inspired by his late mother, Aunty Fay, Source: Supplied

They’re promoting limited edition ‘Literacy is Freedom’ t-shirts, designed by Deus ex Machina, available for sale with 100% of the proceeds supporting ALNF’s vital work with First Nations communities.

Luke Carroll says he grew up with a love of literacy inspired by his late mother, Aunty Fay, who worked as an Aboriginal Education Aid in schools for 30 years.
“She really pushed for myself and my brother to gain an education,” he says. “And then I saw that with the students she had.
“It was beautiful to see what she left behind, the footprint that these kids walk in now, that she’s left behind,” he says.
“I just want to continue with that and it’s why I put my name forward as an ambassador to this great campaign and this great organisation.

“It means so much and I’m proud of the work they do.”

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