A change of heart as well as date – ECA goes deeper on the issue of Australia Day

by Freya Lucas

January 25

Last year, on the occasion of Australia Day, Early Childhood Australia (ECA) signalled their support for Reconciliation Australia’s call to change the date of Australia Day, away from 26 January.

 

“The role of early childhood education and care in the social and political life of our nation has never been more apparent” Early Childhood Australia (ECA) representative Catharine Hydon said, in the lead up to January 26 2018.

 

Last year, Ms Hydon added to discussions in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, calling for deeper reflection about the national conversation about changing the date when Australia Day is acknowledged.

 

This year, ECA says, a change of date would be significant, but not enough – the community debate has become too sharply focused on the date itself, to the detriment of other, deeper issues which they believe are slipping from view.

 

Using a post on their blog The SpokeECA have outlined three key areas to support the ECEC sector to engage in critical reflection about this emotive and complex issue, as we approach Australia Day 2019.

 

Area one – Controversy

 

ECA have said they agree with a ‘growing proportion of Australians’ that it is ‘hurtful and divisive’ to continue to celebrate Australia on the date that British colonial rule was established.

 

“For too many” ECA said “Australia Day will always be Invasion Day, Survival Day, a day of sorrow and loss rather than Australia Day. A day which forever marks the beginning of the end of 60,000+ years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’s control over their own land and traditional ways of life.”

 

ECA said they recognise that there is some community opposition to changing the date, and that, in the ECEC context, most especially on social media, many educators on both sides of the debate express frustration.

 

ECA outlined their view, acknowledging that the date of Australia Day is a topic that is not going away, saying “Australia ‘keeps talking about this’ because there is still something to discuss and, because as a community, we still have quite a way to go.”

 

Area two – the educator role

 

The role of the early childhood professional in any and all circumstances is to ‘play a part in shaping how young children see themselves in their world, and develop a sense of self and of others’ ECA said.

 

While it was important for children to develop a sense of self and positive esteem, ECA said, this should not come at the expense of other children’s self esteem – children’s sense of self and positive self esteem grows over time, with every setting and each exchange – including those which are controversial, or uncomfortable, ECA reminded educators.

 

A sense of belonging and community is important for every child to grow and thrive, but is particularly important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, according to ECA.

But what does this mean for early childhood educators and what they consider in a national celebration of Australia?

ECA issued a clear response:

 

“Whether or not you mark 26 January as a significant day in Australia’s calendar and how you mark it, demands a thoughtful, professional response from early childhood educators and carers, and their leaders. Individual opinions and understanding will be diverse; the context in which educators work with children and families will vary. However your professional choice is clear.

 

A professional early childhood approach focuses on the child and is guided by the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the National Quality Standard to inform practice.

 

The EYLF guides educators to challenge practices that contribute to inequities and make curriculum decisions that promote inclusion and participation of all children.

 

Area three – resources to place children and families at the centre of reflection

 

Recognising the complexity of navigating respectful learning and discussion about how best to approach 26 January, for some educators and communities, ECA outlined that the skills, resources and support required to work within this space would vary depending on:

 

  • The nature of the ECEC setting

 

  • The immediate and leadership team within the setting

 

  • The children and families within the community

 

When conversations become uncomfortable, heated or challenging, ECA encouraged educators to “stay engaged, listen and be respectful. Try to stay with the discussion if you can, rather than stifle or turn away from it, just as you would address difficult conversations, disrespect or incomplete understanding between colleagues, among groups of children or with families on other matters.”

 

ECA recommended adjusting any discussions around Australia Day to be specific to the context of the service or team, factoring in “where you and your team are on the journey towards understanding Australia and integrating its past.”

 

However, the main consideration, ECA said, is to approach discussions in a way which is “thoughtful, informed, respectful and guided by your professional standards and skills as an educator.”

 

In closing, ECA reminded educators that, just as being and belonging are never ‘done’ on the journey to becoming, so too is reconciliation with the unique peoples and cultures of Australia an ongoing journey.

 

Read the full article with links to support resources here  http://thespoke.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/change-heart-well-date/

 

Ms Hydon’s comments are drawn from a post on The Spoke, titled Australia Day—it’s time to change, and shared with permission from ECARead the original piece here.

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