Every year during the fourth week in October, for Children’s Week, we turn our attention to children and their right to enjoy childhood. The national theme for 2022 is based on UNCRC Article 27, which says ‘Children have the right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and mental needs’ (UNICEF Australia, 2022). This theme touches on wellbeing which has featured prominently in national conversation over the past 12 months, including the impact of decreased socialisation on the mental and physical wellbeing of a child (Branley & Duffy, 2021). A child’s physical and mental needs are becoming more diverse as we become an increasingly multicultural and globalised society. According to research conducted between community organisation Settlement Services International (SSI) and Telethon Kids Institute, in 2018, almost 1 in 4 (24 per cent) of children starting school across Australia were from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, an increase from 17 per cent in 2009 (SSI, 2021).
Nadia Di Martino, Associate Lecturer and Course Coordinator for Bachelor of Early Childhood Education at Excelsia College is currently conducting research on early childhood teachers and their cultures and how they are best placed to support children and families who come from multiple backgrounds in Australia. As part of her research, Nadia has seen that there is not only one pedagogy or right way of teaching. ‘One size doesn’t fit all and teachers’ pedagogies need to be flexible and culturally appropriate. In early childhood education, we say that all learning happens in relationships and if I do not understand why my colleague, a parent, or a child is doing things in a certain way, there’s a lot of ethical issues and misunderstanding and internal conflicts that could happen.’
In her research, Nadia wants to look at teachers’ pedagogies, that is, what they’re doing and the rationale behind it. ‘When teachers understand more about their own cultural background, they can undertake critical reflection and see how their own world view affects the way they do things. For example, I was looking at teachers putting food on the table without a plate, and I thought that was disrespectful for the child but then I spoke to the teacher and she explained to me in her culture it’s an important part of food sharing. For children’s mental health, I think we should be open to different ways of teaching children but also caring for children. I see some early childhood services now that let children sleep outdoors which is culturally appropriate in Sweden and Denmark for example, or some children sleep on the floor and that’s acceptable.’
Local, Indigenous, and international teachers need to be understood better when they go into a preschool environment, and global competencies need to be intentionally developed. ‘Mental health is a lot about belonging and feeling like your identity is understood and included. We have the Western model of family that assumes the parent is the primary carer of a child. However, in the context of Indigenous families, for example, we’ve seen that relatives might look after the children, but we still lack that cultural understanding of what the family unit is doing and their roles,’ says Nadia. ‘We need to develop an understanding of other cultures and ways of doing things. It means teachers don’t have to change their ways, but they need to accept and appreciate why others do things certain ways. We want children to have the best opportunities in life and the best learning, so we need to unpack cultural differences and similarities. In New Zealand there is already some wonderful research being conducted with Samoan infants and toddlers, which helps develop culturally appropriate and innovative practices and philosophies for teaching.’
We can’t wait to see how Nadia’s research impacts the future of early childhood educators and the wellbeing of children. If you’re interested in studying from forward-thinking and innovative educators such as Nadia, why not explore the Bachelor of Early Childhood Education (Birth to 5)?
Branley, A. & Duffy, C. (2021, September 1). How to tell if lockdowns are affecting your children and what you can do about it. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-09-01/how-to-tell-if-lockdowns-are-affecting-your-children/100421580
Children’s Rights Queensland. (2022). Right to Mental Health Support. https://childrensrightsqld.org.au/right-to-mental-health-support/
Matapo, J. & Utumapu-McBridge, T. (2022). Pepe Meamea as a Framework for Samoan Infants and Toddlers in Aotearoa New Zealand. World Studies in Education, 23(1). pp.97–114. https://docserver.ingentaconnect.com/deliver/connect/jnp/1441340x/v23n1/s7.pdf?expires=1666065262&id=0000&titleid=72010110&checksum=7E65A31AAE7787F67AB4D194DCED8BD1&host=https://www.ingentaconnect.com
Settlement Services International. (2021, March 24). Culturally diverse children missing out on early childhood education are more likely to face vulnerability. [Press Release]. https://www.ssi.org.au/news/media-releases/2606-culturally-diverse-children-missing-out-on-early-childhood-education-are-more-likely-to-face-vulnerability
UNICEF Australia. (2022). United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Children. https://www.unicef.org.au/our-work/information-for-children/un-convention-on-the-rights-of-the-child