School readiness: What does it mean for Indigenous children, families, schools and communities?
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School readiness: What does it mean for Indigenous children, families, schools and communities? Sue Dockett Background . Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up about 2.5% of Australia’s population (~500 000). Most live in urban areas.

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School readiness: What does it mean for Indigenous children, families, schools and communities?Sue



  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up about 2.5% of Australia’s population (~500 000).

  • Most live in urban areas.

  • Life expectancy is lower than non-Indigenous population (11.5 years for men; 9.7 years for women).

  • Higher rates of infant mortality among Indigenous groups.

  • Children less likely to attend early childhood education.

  • Decrease in literacy and numeracy outcomes as remoteness increases.

  • High levels of unemployment.



  • Federally, the term ‘Indigenous’ is used to refer to Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people. In the Indigenous population in 2006, 463 700 people (90 per cent) were of Aboriginal origin only, 33 300 people (6 per cent) were of Torres Strait Islander origin only and 20 100 people (4 per cent) were of both origins.

Aboriginal and torres strait islanders

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

  • Different groups, different histories.

  • Aboriginal people – estimated arrival

  • in Australian 70 000 years ago.

  • Torres Strait Islands – inhabited for about 2500 3000 years. English missionaries arrived 1871, annexed by Queensland 1879.

  • .


Proportion of the Australian population, by State and Territory, 2006

[Source: Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2011]


Proportion of the Australian population by remoteness area, 2006

[Source: Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2011]

Closing the gap

Closing the Gap

  • A national strategy through Coalition of Australian Governments (COAG) (federal and state governments).

  • Focus is overcoming Indigenous disadvantage with targets and coordinated action across the areas of early childhood; schooling; health; economic participation; healthy home; safe communities and governance and leadership.

Closing the gap targets 2008

Closing the Gap targets (2008)

  • To close the life-expectancy gap within a generation.

  • To halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade.

  • To ensure access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four years olds in remote communities within five years.

  • To halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children within a decade.

  • To halve the gap for Indigenous students in Year 12 (or equivalent) attainment rates by 2020.

  • To halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade.

Early childhood education

Early childhood education

  • Strategies to promote ECE for Indigenous children include:

  • Funding of Indigenous preschools (with increased educational (readiness) and financial accountability).

  • Construction of child and family centres to deliver integrated services, including early learning, child care and family support programs.

  • Indigenous AEDI

Closing the gap clearinghouse

Closing the Gap Clearinghouse

  • Role is to:

  • ‘bring together quality information on ‘what works’ to overcome Indigenous disadvantage. The clearinghouse gives policy makers and program managers access to a developing evidence base of ‘best practice’ for achieving the Closing the Gap targets and related Indigenous reforms.’

Purpose of the issues paper

Purpose of the issues paper

  • The purpose of the issues paper is to review the quality and breadth of the available evidence on school readiness including the health and learning aspects of child development, evaluate the evidence base in relation to this and identify any gaps in the available research.

What we know

What we know

  • School readiness as a multi-dimensional construct, recognising the interplay of children's individual characteristics and the contexts in which they live, and have lived, as they grow and develop.

  • School readiness:

    • Children's readiness for school

    • Schools’ readiness for children

    • Family and community capacity to support children

What we know1

What we know

  • Health and educational attainment are linked.

    • links between physical health and school readiness

    • Social, emotional and mental health also important

    • Safe, secure environments support children's learning and development

    • Prolonged exposure to stress/violence can be detrimental

    • Promoting school readiness involves paying attention to broad family and community issues, as well as educational provision.

What works

What works

  • Employing and valuing Indigenous staff in schools.

  • Professional links between prior-to-school and school staff to support transition.

  • Positive involvement of families and community.

  • High quality early childhood education supports a positive start to school.

What doesn t work

What doesn’t work

  • Labelling children as ‘unready’.

  • Assessment of Indigenous children without recognition of Indigenous cultures.

  • Focus on ‘teaching Indigenous children to ‘do school’ – i.e. practice the skills of school.

Lack of readiness or mismatch

Lack of readiness or mismatch?

‘Lack of readiness’ is not a problem of children being insufficiently skilled to learn at school, but instead it is where there is a mismatch between the attributes of individual children and families, and the ability and resources of the school and/or system to engage and respond appropriately.

What we don t know

What we don’t know

  • What Indigenous children, families and communities understand by readiness for school.

  • What indicators if readiness might be.

  • Where overseas interventions are effective (or appropriate) for Australia.

Transition or readiness

Transition or readiness?

  • Transition as a process that involves children, families, educators, and community members.

  • Transition as a time when ‘people change their role in a community’ – i.e. a school community.

  • Readiness can be a part of transition, but readiness ≠ transition.

  • Transition is a process of relationship building.

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