The Early Years Learning Framework in remote Australia
Providing professional learning to early childhood centres in very remote, predominantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia is always a challenge. Isolation, cost and accessibility issues typically mean less opportunity to participate in the sorts of professional learning most educators in urban and regional areas take for granted. Importantly too, professional learning must be context-based and just-in-time to be useful for educators. Learning generally works best when we are in our own environments and we can see ideas in practice.
The Remote Early Years Learning Framework professional learning program was designed to ensure that early childhood centres in very remote WA, Qld and the NT have access to important information about the Early Years Learning Framework and ways it can be implemented. It provides support for educators working with the Early Years Learning Framework and illustrates how to harness the cultural richness of family, educator and community life to support children’s learning. The resources, on-site, side-by-side mentoring, practical examples and scenarios show how to embed culturally rich and responsive early learning practices for children while meeting Early Years Learning Framework outcomes.
The Remote Early Years Learning Framework Initiative is part of a broader Australian Government commitment to improving access to integrated, inclusive early childhood services that are relevant to families and children in very remote communities and that support children as they transition to school. The rollout of the Remote Early Years Learning Framework professional learning program commenced in 2012 and some 1000 remote centres are expected to participate by the end of 2013.
The idea behind the professional learning program is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in remote communities need the best early childhood programs and the most qualified and responsive early childhood educators. All evidence points to the success of quality early childhood programs to improve young children’s educational and health outcomes. Understanding children’s developmental pathways, the brain’s receptiveness to learning in the early years, the importance of interacting purposefully and positively with children, and the need to plan and implement rich learning activities is critical to building quality learning environments. This targeted professional learning complements a raft of efforts to strengthen early childhood workforce capacity in very remote areas. Clearly we need local educators to work in remote early learning centres to ensure their continuity.
Drawing on the rich cultural practices of families from the central desert areas of Australia to the tiny islands off the NT and Qld, a suite of resources (DVDs, posters and planning templates, fact cards, plus a richly illustrated ‘workbook’ that ‘unpacks’ the Early Years Learning Framework) illustrates ways educators might use local activities—including collecting bush foods, hunting, fishing, singing and dancing—in their planning, programming and documenting cycles and during spontaneous and intentional teaching. Importantly, professional learning sessions illustrate ways to build early literacy and numeracy skills using local ideas, materials and ways of knowing, being and doing.
Running over the equivalent of five days in each early learning centre, the professional learning activities introduce and ‘unpack’ the Early Years Learning Framework and highlight the importance of connecting with culture, family and community. Educators experience the pedagogies underpinning the Early Years Learning Framework to promote children’s learning around the outcomes using local contexts and materials. They learn about creating rich, purposeful environments wherever children are located and the importance of high expectations and intentionally nurturing children’s strengths and honouring, respecting and valuing their families and home life.
At the heart of these resources is awareness that children grow and learn best in a community context where activities are really meaningful to them. The resources illustrate ways of using the Early Years Learning Framework as a planning and assessment tool aligned with family and community values and practices. In doing so, they highlight the importance of developing language, literacy and social skills to prepare children for school.
Today we know that rich preschool language opportunities in children’s home languages and in English are springboards for literacy learning. In some very remote communities, where families’ first language is an Indigenous language, local educators typically communicate with children in both this language as well as English. Learning in a home language as well as English helps build concepts, ensures home languages are fostered, and makes children and families feel comfortable and connected.
The remote Early Years Learning Framework resources illustrate ways of using local languages and English to meet designated Early Years Learning Framework learning and communication outcomes. They show how key ideas in the Early Years Learning Framework can be used as a basis for programming and designing learning experiences that capitalise on children’s rich cultural heritages as well as contemporary ideas about early childhood learning.
Over 2012 and 2013 the Remote Early Years Learning Framework professional learning sessions will support hundreds of educators to introduce the Early Years Learning Framework or enhance its implementation. Specifically, sessions help educators navigate the document and its underpinning and demonstrate what ‘authentic’, responsive learning looks like in practice—and how resources, ideas and activities can be shaped so they are consistent with the intent, core values and outcomes of the Early Years Learning Framework and be really meaningful for each context and every child and family.
The Remote Early Years Learning Framework professional learning project is funded by the Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations (DEEWR).
Elliott, A. (2012 September). Valuing, celebrating and promoting culturally rich and authentic learning in the early years. Keynote address. Independent Education Union Annual Early Childhood Conference. Sydney. Key content reprinted in Bedrock.
Elliott, A., & Tayler, C. (2012). Remote Indigenous professional development for the Early Years Learning Framework. Sydney: Armedia.
Elliott, A., & Tayler, C. (2012). Developing professional learning around the Early Years Learning Framework for remote communities. A rationale. Canberra: Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations (DEEWR).
Don’t forget, Every Child is tax deductible for early childhood professionals