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Communities need to be involved in early childhood education


Brigid Veale
15 February 2008
Ensuring Indigenous communities are involved in the delivery and development of early childhood education is the key to the success of initiatives announced by the Australian Government this week, according to two leading Aboriginal educators.

Associate Professor Karen Martin, who will take up a position with Southern Cross University’s School of Education in early March, and Professor Judy Atkinson, director of SCU’s Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples, have welcomed the initiatives to focus on early childhood education.

“The critical thing is to do it right,” Professor Atkinson said. “It has to be fast-tracked and we need to be working with people at the community level. We need to build the capacity of the community to deliver what is needed.

“Early childhood education is critical but it must come from within the community.”

Professor Atkinson said the University was in the process of developing short courses for staff in early childhood centres in remote communities.

The School of Education has also developed a new program on Indigenous culture and perspectives which is being embedded in the new Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) course and the primary education course.

Professor Martin, an early childhood educator, will lead the implementation of the new Indigenous focus.

“Southern Cross Univeristy will have the first education courses in the nation to have Indigenous culture and perspectives embedded throughout,” she said.

“This is a new framework for building a cultural awareness among students. We will have graduates who are ready to teach and to implement the policies and changes that have been so strongly voiced this week.”

Professor Martin said the aim was not to just teach potential teachers about Aboriginal culture, but to embed a real understanding of Indigenous perspectives which they could carry through in their teaching – both within Indigenous and non-Indigenous settings.

She said she also welcomed the creation of additional university places for early childhood education and the incentives for people to work in remote areas.

Professor Martin brings to Southern Cross University a wealth of experience. She has worked as an early childhood educator in Aboriginal community controlled education services throughout Queensland and has been involved in policy and curriculum development at a state and national level. In 2005 she was awarded the Barbara Creaser Award from Early Childhood Australia in recognition of her contribution in the field. In 2007 she received the Australian Association of Research and Education dissertation award.

Associate Professor Anne Graham, head of the School of Education, said: “We are delighted to have Karen Martin join us at SCU as we endeavour to develop early childhood and primary courses that will adequately and authentically prepare teachers for working effectively with Aboriginal children and their families.”

The new Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) is being offered at the Coffs Harbour campus. The four-year course will equip graduates to teach in a range of early childhood and primary school settings.