Starting school: a strengths-based approach towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

4 Oct 2012

This paper highlights the need for a strengths-based approach to school readiness for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, in order to recognise the skills, cultural knowledge and understandings they already have when they transition to formal learning.

This paper provides an overview of the role of ‘resilience’ in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander strengths‐based early learning context. It does this by reviewing the literature and by conducting an analysis of data collected through the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC), a study that follows two age groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children as they grow up.

The origins of this paper came from a desire to do something more with the rich LSIC data available, and a frustration that the positive elements being captured in the LSIC data are not necessarily being reflected in the rhetoric, policies, programs and approaches that are aimed at supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s transition to formal learning. While the LSIC data appear to be pointing to strong and rich interactions between children and their parents and carers, and to the importance of cultural knowledge and identity as a key factor in the development of resilience, these protective factors are not currently being reflected in testing and checklists being used to measure children’s wellbeing and school readiness.

The project team conducted a review of the literature and a further analysis of the LSIC data. The literature review explored concepts of resilience, wellbeing and school readiness for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

The LSIC analysis was aimed at identifying the factors that predict measures of children’s school readiness and those that predict measures of children’s social and emotional wellbeing – an indicator of resilience. The LSIC analyses were performed using a strengths‐based approach. That is, a conscious effort was made to interpret the data in terms of the skills or positive features that the LSIC children exhibited. Where possible, the types of indicators used to explore and evaluate the resilience of children reflect the strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and are guided by the findings of the literature review.

Regression models were used to explore children’s readiness for school and social and emotional wellbeing. In addition to the factors that usually influence these outcomes (such as age, gender, health and socio‐economic status), LSIC data showed that activities and identity play an important role. The key findings are that:

  • greater participation in activities such as reading, storytelling or drawing was associated with higher levels of prosocial behaviour; and
  • children whose primary carers placed more importance on their Indigenous identity had fewer social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.
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