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As we acknowledge Indigenous Literacy Day and International Literacy Day, we honour the importance of First Language literacy and what it means to us.

We’re celebrating amazing work currently being done in this area and recognising that there is still much to do to drive change and create a new path forward for our children.

Children’s Ground was established to combat what has been a failing education system for our First Nations children and families. Much of what First Nations children need to learn is not available for them in a mainstream educational system. Our children have been let down.

The Children’s Ground Approach centres on culturally appropriate, First Nations-led education.

The Children’s Ground Approach has ten practice principles, including: ‘innovation: combining the old and the new,’ ‘child, family and community led,’ and ‘culturally safe.’ Together, these principles create an environment in which our children will not just survive but thrive.

I believe this is the only way that educational and social inequities can be overcome. This is the way we can address the gap in literacy levels and ensure First Nations children grow up with a strong foundation in their First Language and culture, as well as English.

Through my experiences of learning both Arrernte and English, teaching Arrernte in a formal setting, conducting community research and raising children in a multi-lingual environment – it has become clear that there are certain principles required for our children to learn.

First and foremost, our kids need to be on Country because the Country is the classroom. It’s where the language lives. Our literacy is not just in letters, it is in our relationship to the land and with each other. It is in our songs and our practices that are tied to our Country and culture.

You can’t separate Country from language. You can't separate from language from Country.

Having that strong connection to Country and language, especially in those first five years of a child’s life, will strengthen them and their self-esteem from the start.

How can you learn this connection if you’re not seeing it, feeling it, living it?

As with the setting, comes the teachers. Our education is intergenerational. So much more language will come from the land because the older generation and Elders are involved in teaching and learning the way they learnt. This was their classroom and that’s the only way they can teach appropriately.

In mainstream schools, intergenerational teaching isn’t happening the way we need it to. It cannot exist as it does on Country. Country offers benefits far beyond what a classroom can teach.

Learning on Country in our way means that families are leading and the community is involved in their child’s education.

We need to remember that this is not just important for the child but also the educators. Teaching is their role, their identity. It is how they continue to learn and deepen their own connections to family and to Country. Not teaching in this way is robbing our families and Elders of their roles and identities.

We know that our children’s education, their literacy as well as their identity, will develop optimally in these environments on Country.

Children’s Ground is showing this every day. We’re seeing stronger teachers, stronger communities, and stronger learning resources. We’re developing books in Arrernte, written and illustrated by Arrernte people. We’re recording songs in language for our future generations.

We are creating the world our children need to thrive in their own culture with a strong sense of self and we know that this is what will allow them to be strong in life.

About the author

Amunda Gorey

Children’s Ground researcher, artist, and Arrernte language teacher

— Posted on 26 Nov 2022