Everyone who works in the Early Years spaces knows the importance of supporting Jarjums (children) through the series of adjustments from one Early Years educational space to the next. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Jarjums, there is an additional layer of adjustments: the cultural and world views they bring from their home life can be very different to those in an educational system built on western paradigms.  The solution is often to seek ways to move Jarjums as quickly as possible into the western system.   

A recent paper by Fiona Bobongie and Cathy Jackson, published in the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood presents a very different way of thinking about Early Years Transition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.  The authors present an Early Years Transitions Framework where the thinking changes from ‘how do we ensure Jarjums ‘fit in’ to the system, to ‘how can the system change to better support our Jarjums.’   

The Early Years Transitions Framework describes how the following elements can create a seamless Early Years transition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Jarjums:   

  • High-Expectations Relationships. 
  • Understanding cultural artefacts  
  • Incremental learning 

High-Expectations Relationships 

A key element of any Early Years program is to ensure Jarjums have a sense of participation and belonging in their education.  For Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Jarjums, this can only happen when educators create a third cultural space where the cultural backgrounds of all Jarjums are embraced and celebrated.  This means every Early Years educator needs to have a holistic view of the Jarjum, their family and community. 

High-Expectations Relationships provide the tool to engage with families, and Jarjums through respectful conversations. There are some key elements to building these relationships. 

  • Firstly, this means the educator repositioning from the role of  ‘knowledge holder’ and moving into a space of deep listening to value different world views and understand the needs and aspirations of families.  This establishes a space of co-creating power with families and Jarjums that is about connecting, listening, valuing, and respecting other world views.    
  • Secondly, this is about shifting the thinking from focussing only on the current Early Years space and igniting conversations across the sectors, to understand starting points and build incremental learning journeys. 

Understanding cultural artefacts

The Framework describes how when High-Expectations Relationships are in place, educators can understand what might be happening for a Jarjum to understand what makes them react in a certain way.  This is described as understanding the cultural artefacts from the Jarjum’s home life.  

This involves understanding some simple things such as the roles and responsibility the Jarjum takes in the home and how they value connections to other family members.  Language is also important to understand.  For instance, Jarjums who speak Kriol, may not understand simple words if they haven’t fully developed the code switching to Standard Australian English.  

Incremental learning 

An Indigenous worldview includes building on existing knowledge.  For each role as a child, sibling, teenager, and then as a parent, grandparent and elder, there are responsibilities that build from the previous role.  If educators understand the starting points of both home life and the previous Early Years space, then they can build gradually on that knowledge, rather than Jarjums being expected to learn a new set of rules in each new space. The Framework describes Indigenous ways of building on existing learning whereby Jarjums gradually build familiarity of the next space before they move up to that new level.  The Early Years space then becomes a place of interwoven spaces and incremental learning. 

While the framework has been designed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Jarjums, the elements of the Framework are valuable for all Jarjums.  When the Early Years learning space is set in a third cultural space, it supports all Jarjums, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to learn more about Australia’s rich and long-standing Indigenous culture.  And when each Early Years space becomes an integral part of the learning journey, planning the curriculum and pedagogy is easier when the starting point is already known to build for deeper learning. 

The Early Years Transition Framework is explored in our Stronger Smarter Jarjums Program. 

Bobongie, F. & Jackson, C.  (2021).  Understanding cultural artefacts to ensure seamless transitions in the Early Years.  Australasian Journal or Early Childhood.  Online publication 2 December 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/18369391211055864 

Read more: Jarjums Position Paper | Stronger Smarter