The context and the issue
A Strategic Results Project operated at ten sites spread through rural New South Wales which had significant Aboriginal populations and where preschooling was unavailable. It set out to provide an alternative through two complementary components: a transition to school program for Indigenous children, and a parent awareness program. Nicole Simone was the project officer. One site was Condoblin Preschool Centre.
In more detail, the project aimed to
- provide early childhood education for these children;
- encourage Aboriginal children and families to participate in supported learning activities for two school terms;
- prepare children for a smooth transition to school, particularly in the areas of literacy, numeracy and social skills;
- advise parents on literacy, numeracy and health issues; and
- encourage parents and community to contribute to the planning, delivery and evaluation of the transition program.
Ten schools in communities with a high proportion of Indigenous school enrolments and limited or no access to preschool were targeted. Teams consisting of a transition teacher and an Aboriginal Education Worker and other appropriate staff were selected in targeted schools. These teams were trained in cross-cultural awareness and other relevant issues.
Professional readings on early childhood, transition, Aboriginal students and literacy, and partnerships with parents were widely circulated.
The parent awareness program was developed, along with culturally-appropriate assessment tools for use at entry into Kindergarten (the first year of schooling), by each school and community. Children were assessed for entry to Kindergarten.
There was a relatively high mobility rate which made collection of data problematic, but the following results were achieved for children who participated fully in the transition programs.
- All participating children commenced Kindergarten the following year. There was a widely-noted improvement in the smoothness of home-school transition for these children.
- The attendance rate during the Kindergarten year following participation in the transition program was 86% for Indigenous children (compared with the overall rate of 83%).
- Of the 100 students in the target group, 92 satisfied providers' expectations of readiness in literacy and numeracy for entry to Kindergarten.
- Following one term of school
- the proportion of Aboriginal students achieving at or beyond Foundation level outcomes for numeracy was slightly above the proportion of non-Indigenous children with similar achievement; and
- the proportion of Aboriginal children achieving Early Stage 1 outcomes for speaking and listening, reading and writing was commensurate with the proportion of non-Indigenous children with similar achievement.
- Community trust in the Aboriginal Education Workers and teamwork with schools' Aboriginal Education Assistants led to increased Aboriginal community involvement in all school events. The program encouraged the early screening of Indigenous students for possible health problems in all ten schools. This process provides for referral to appropriate medical assistance and for schools to program appropriate support.
Key factors in success
- The positive partnerships that were developed between the schools and their communities. School staff took time to form relationships with children/families and other community members and this underpinned the quality of the results. All ten schools perceive this program as the most positive program they have run for Indigenous children and their families.
- The successful nature of home-school contact. (Half the schools provided workshops for parents on health, social skills, literacy and numeracy at school sites. The other five schools conducted a home visiting program.)
- The most successful programs ran in schools where a permanent teacher was employed for the transition program and a casual teacher was employed to relieve his/her class. This enabled the experienced classroom teacher who knew the school routine, buildings and other staff to promote the transition program. In all schools this permanent member of staff was a well-respected teacher and therefore the transition program became a well-respected part of the school.