For more than 60,000 years, storytelling has been central to Indigenous culture.
At Waranwarin Early Learning Center in Sydney’s southwest, reading books together is a highlight of each day for classes of young First Nations children.
With specialist learning programs supported by the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF), the center is one of hundreds across the country helping to close the gap in Indigenous education.
“Our children love participating in the program,” says Jodie Bell, director of the center. “We’re talking about Tommy Turtle, we’re talking about Arthur the Puppet, and Letters, Sounds, and other books.

“The relationship with literacy is there and it’s something I think we can all be proud of as a community.

Photo of Alinta Pencheff-Scott with preschoolers.

Alinta Pencheff-Scott is an educator at Waranwarin Early Learning Centre. Source: Provided

Bell says educators also benefit from additional training opportunities through the ALNF, including a nationally accredited Certificate IV in Early Language and Literacy, which combines speech therapy and early childhood education.

“So it’s not just about providing resources, it’s about improving the skills of our community and ensuring that our employees have the skills to continue the relationship with early literacy and language. , from our staff to our families and our children.”
By incorporating traditional Aboriginal songs, stories and artwork, children are encouraged to share their own stories to build greater confidence in the classroom.
Educator Alinta Pencheff-Scott says using the first language with young children contributes to stronger English literacy growth.
“Coming graduation, I can honestly say they all leave feeling confident and that’s the most important thing because they come to you at such a vulnerable stage,” she says.

“You can see the confidence on their faces – that they are ready to take on the next chapter of their lives at school.”

Aboriginal Child Literacy Goals

By 2025, it is hoped that 95% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children will be enrolled in preschool. This goal is on track to be met – with a steady increase in national registrations since 2016. Source: SBS

Reforms to close the gap

Improving access to early childhood education is a key priority of the Closing the Gap reforms.
By 2025, it is hoped that 95% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children will be enrolled in preschool.
This is a goal currently on track with a steady increase in national enrollment among the cohort since 2016, when only 76.7% were enrolled in the year prior to full-time schooling (YBFS).
But defenders are pushing for more to be done to help those still falling through the cracks.
“The inequality between regional and remote communities in their access to early education compared to metropolitan areas is significant,” says Pamela Blaszczynski, ALNF Executive Trainer of the Early Literacy Program.
Children in many disadvantaged communities, she says, experience low levels of oral language development and are more vulnerable in terms of language and cognitive skills than national averages.
“Education begins when children are born. If we don’t give children access to early education, big gaps form in their learning, and they pass that on to school, which actually impacts a lot of them right up to the end of their schooling.

To mark National Reconciliation Week, the ALNF has teamed up with several high-profile celebrities to help spread the word, including footballer Adam Goodes, musician Danzal Baker and actor Wiradjuri and Playschool presenter Luke Carroll.

Luke Carroll says he grew up with a love of literacy inspired by his late mother, Aunt Fay,

Luke Carroll says he grew up with a love of literacy inspired by his late mother, Aunt Fay, Source: Provided

They promote limited-edition “Literacy is Freedom” t-shirts, designed by Deus ex Machina, available for sale with 100% of proceeds supporting the ALNF’s vital work with First Nations communities.

Luke Carroll says he grew up with a love of literacy inspired by his late mother, Aunt Fay, who worked as an Aboriginal education aide in schools for 30 years.
“She really insisted that my brother and I have an education,” he says. “And then I saw that with the students she had.
“It was beautiful to see what she left behind, the footprint that these kids are walking now, that she left behind,” he says.
“I just want to continue with this and that’s why I put my name forward as an ambassador for this great campaign and this great organization.

“It means so much and I’m proud of the work they do.”