The importance of foregrounding Indigenous Worldviews in early childhood education

The Victorian Early Years and Development Framework begins with the cultural knowledge story shared by Dr Sue Atkinson, a Yorta Yorta woman, and Annette Sax, a Taungurung woman, situating Indigenous knowledges as first in understanding how to practice as early childhood teachers. Despite this, “thinking with local, place-based Indigenous perspectives is largely absent from early childhood teacher education” (Hamm, C. & Iorio, J M., 2019).

women showing kids her garden

Dr Jeanne Marie Iorio, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood, describes “teaching as always political and ethical, no matter how we talk about it. If we think about teaching this way, and in the context of Australia as well as the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework, it is our responsibility to foreground Indigenous worldviews.” Dr Jayson Cooper, Lecturer in Early Childhood, agrees. He suggests that as non-Aboriginal educators it is “our responsibility to listen and to rethink our practices”.

Different to the consistent dominant narrative of ‘quality’ in early childhood education (Hamm, C. & Iorio, J M., 2019), which is steeped in a linear way of seeing the world, seen “as something that can be measured”, early childhood education foregrounded with Indigenous perspectives is “highly contextual and relational”.

“It’s about engaging with complexity and inclusive ideas around the political, social, economic and cultural context”, says Iorio.

Largely, this is because Indigenous Worldviews are deeply connected with local place. In this sense, place is culturally and politically charged: having many layers and histories, being an entanglement between humans and more-than-humans, acknowledges Indigenous people’s original and ongoing connections with the land, politics and knowledges of a place.

Learning, then, is similarly complex and contextual. This might be “where multimodal literacies or understanding numeracy within the context of the local place come in” says Dr Iorio. But it’s also “the whole idea of the process of coming alongside and in relation with place and Country”, adds Dr Cooper, “especially for non-Indigenous educators like ourselves”.

kid holding two indeginious designs

When children are encouraged to think with different layers of place, such as Sky Country, Water Country, Land Country, and the relationships with humans and non-humans, ordinary moments become pedagogical and different ways of knowing, being and doing are possible.

Teaching and learning in this way generates authentic, meaningful connections with place, elevating children in their community as capable which leads to active citizens who can contribute to positive social change.

“The connection with community, place, human and non-human, creates learning environments where kindergartens are the hubs for the communities. When we do that, we highlight the way that children are active citizens, and that they can have voice in their local communities and engage with important issues”, says Dr Cooper.

Viewing children as capable citizens and focusing on learning that is relational, complex, and embedded in everyday moments (which reframes quality as meaning-making rather than based on developmental-logic) is key to ethical, responsible teaching. As Dr Iorio and Dr Cooper suggest, this approach to teaching empowers children for “the whole experience of being an active citizen of a community”.

“In that sense, Indigenous Worldviews are really important”, says Dr Iorio, “because they're deeply connected to place.”

In the University of Melbourne’s Graduate Diploma in Early Childhood Teaching, this the central idea. Unlike any other program on offer, the two scholars have radically re-developed the course foregrounding Indigenous Worldviews, with the idea of place running through the entire course – rather than one or two subjects.

It re-thinks how teachers become, belong and be in the context of Country, and teaching is viewed as a political and ethical practice that supports all children.

“We're coming from a place that is not steeped in a linear way of understanding the world,” says Dr Iorio, “but an idea that children can contribute to their local community. And that teachers are transformative intellectuals and agents of change”.

Find out more about the Graduate Diploma in Early Childhood Teaching and how to apply for the next intake.

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References

Hamm, C. & Iorio, J.M. (2019). Early Childhood Teacher Education and Place. The SAGE Enyclopedia of Teacher Education. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.