Indigenous Kids off to a Flying Start Thanks to the Can-do Women of Borroloola

The women of Borroloola are asking the Albanese government to acknowledge their success and help other communities do as they have done for their youngest children. Borroloola in the gulf country of the Northern Territory is rated the fifth-most disadvantaged community in Australia, but its early childhood program is driving extraordinary change. IndiKindi was never government policy – it is a partnership ­between local women and the philanthropic Moriarty Foundation. Three quarters of children in Borroloola were developmentally behind in their first year of school when IndiKindi began a decade ago. That figure has fallen to 34.2 per cent as a direct result of the program of educational play, reading, science and maths. The first comprehensive ­assessment of IndiKindi by Deloitte Access Economics will be published soon and finds the program has delivered results at a crucial time for government decision-makers. Report co-author Lachlan Smirl, education lead partner at Deloitte Access Economics, found one of the program’s strengths was the women who worked for it.

They found they are a steady and trusted presence in the community, and they are all qualified early childhood educators or studying for the qualification. IndiKindi is no playgroup. It is designed as preparation for preschool. The number of Borroloola children enrolling in preschool has increased sharply since IndiKindi began. “Fortunately, we find ourselves at a significant juncture in the nation’s public policy discourse as it relates to early years policy,” Mr Smirl wrote in the foreword to the report. “An array of major reviews and policy design processes herald the prospect of a new era for early years policy, delivery and, most importantly, early years outcomes. This represents the most significant opportunity for major, welfare-enhancing reform that we’ve seen in decades.” A preliminary report on the program last year was well ­received in Canberra. It is not yet known if the federal government will offer permanent funding for the program or roll it out to other communities that want to run their own versions of it.

At every IndiKindi session fruit, water and a hot meal is provided, and handwashing and ­hygiene practices are part of the routine. Amanda Johnson, 34, ­decided she wanted to be an early childhood educator in the program about eight years ago when she took along her son Leonardis Evans. She said he enjoyed maths at IndiKindi and the program set him up for primary school. “He learned a lot. He loves his maths now still,” Amanda said. “He is 12 now. He is going well.” Each IndiKindi session is different. On Friday last week, Ms Johnson and her colleagues collected the children and their mothers in the IndiKindi bus as usual and took them for a drive to show them damage from recent flooding in the gulf. They delivered care packages to families who had been evacuated and talked about cyclones. Ms Johnson said children started to look forward to IndiKindi after a few sessions. In Borroloola, 80 per cent of all children under five attend IndiKindi each week. “Some of them get shy when they come first time when they are new, then they get used to it,” she said.

IndiKindi also helps parents to identify health problems early. The program takes children on group visits to the health clinic and to see visiting medical practitioners such as the dentist. Recently, a visiting ear specialist was a guest. The specialist used a plastic model of an ear to show parents how what might look like a minor problem can be serious. When a child’s education begins, some already trail the field. As children start Year 1, their development can be measured in five key areas: physical health and wellbeing; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive skills; and communication skills and general knowledge. The assessments are bleakest for Indigenous children in very remote communities in the year they start Year 1, only 16.1 per cent are considered “developmentally on track” compared to 56.2 per cent of non-Indigenous children Australia wide. The change in Borroloola is stark. The proportion of five-year-olds with a developmental delay has fallen from 74% per cent to 42% since the introduction of IndiKindi. Nationally in 2021, 34.3% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children commencing school were developmentally on track.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

Print This Post Print This Post

Comments are closed