The Little Learners Project aims to remove barriers to enable children from our Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CaLD) communities to access early education.
Children from a refugee and asylum seeker background have often experienced significant displacement and trauma, all of which impacts significantly on their early development. The extensive body of research and evidence indicates early engagement of vulnerable children in early childhood education services has a substantial impact on a child’s cognitive, emotional and social development, and that two years of kindergarten impacts positively on a child’s long term development and academic outcomes.
Our AEDC profile tells us that 50.8% of CALD children, or 1 in 2 in our community, are developmentally vulnerable in one or more domains by the time they commence school. It is posited that these children face both financial and cultural barriers to education development.
A recent change in State Government policy to grant free kindergarten for all 3-year-old children has reduced financial barriers. However, other barriers including language and cultural barriers remain.
This program provides bilingual support to reduce language, social and cultural barriers to education. By providing culturally sensitive language support to parents and children, we aim to enhance CaLD children’s experience and development in early education.
The bilingual support workers serve as a critical bridge to improving communication between the child and the educators; the educators and the families; and between non-English speaking and English-speaking children.
An intended consequence of these relationships is also to improve the parents’ knowledge of the education system, making for an easier transition onto school.
The third intake in 2023 to Little Learners saw 23 children attending, attendance has more than doubled since 2019. Children attend one of two of Shepparton children’s centres, Colliver Road and Leslie Gribble. The children attend 5 hours kinder a week.
Place-based programs like Little Learners align with our vision of “inclusive, interconnected communities where everybody has equal opportunity to participate”. Our project partnerships with Uniting Goulburn North East and Greater Shepparton City Council are critical in delivering on an inclusive and culturally appropriate response to the needs of CaLD children.
This is a three-year program made possible by multi-year grants from the Ross Trust and the Besen Family Foundation.
“Having language support means we can speak for ourselves, without shame or embarrassment.” – Parent
“With someone there to help with language, I don’t worry about forms. I can learn quickly, instead of being slow and not understanding.” – Parent
“I have no English at all. I didn’t understand what the teacher wanted me to do. For example, when the teacher asked us to bring the immunization certificate, I didn’t know what this was. I couldn’t even write my name. Now I can because the bilingual worker helped me.” – Parent
“Having a bilingual worker there, who can speak their language, helps to settle the child. It’s a new environment, in which people are not speaking their language – everyone else around them is speaking English – and that’s very traumatizing to a child when they’re first starting. Having the bilingual worker has been very important to helping to settle the children” – Educator
“When I find myself in front of a white colored person, I feel small and limited. I don’t feel I should express myself, because of my color. I feel I will be judged as unacceptable. If a bilingual worker had not been at the kinder, I would not have been able to communicate my thoughts, questions or concerns” – Parent
* The Most Significant Change stories are used in GSF evaluation of the program