[MEDIA RELEASE] Indi Kindi secures funding from UNICEF Australia

Indi Kindi’s groundbreaking ‘walking learning’ early childhood education program for Aboriginal children is finding its stride during COVID-19, with support from UNICEF Australia.

UNICEF Australia and Indi Kindi are partnering to share knowledge and understanding of culturally relevant approaches to Early Childhood Development (ECD) and to strengthen ECD practice in Australia and the Asia Pacific region.

The two organisations are stepping up their partnership in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and are collaborating to ensure that children can continue learning.

Indi Kindi’s ‘walking learning’ outdoor teaching model was founded by the Moriarty Foundation and uniquely designed with the community for children in Borroloola, Northern Territory.

The ‘walking learning’ program for children under five years of age, their families and communities aims to improve school readiness for Aboriginal children while also providing vital access to community-driven health initiatives.

‘Walking learning’ enables movement, freedom and creative expression that is well suited to Aboriginal children. Many Aboriginal children have difficulties with auditory processing due to hearing loss, so being in a classroom where sound bounces off the wall can be disorientating, affecting cooperation and attention spans of very young children. ‘Walking learning’ builds on the measurable link between movement and cognitive function to boost positive behaviour, engagement and performance.

Fiona Hekking, Director of Indi Kindi said, “When we started our ‘walking learning’ model we didn’t imagine how critical it would become during the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Walking learning’ is well-suited to COVID-19 conditions as it does not require access to a classroom and can be delivered almost anywhere, enabling movement, freedom, and adequate social distancing. During this time, we’ve had whole families participate in ‘walking learning’ sessions, with multiple health, wellbeing and cultural learning benefits.”

The grant from UNICEF Australia will support the program’s compliance with COVID-19 restrictions and continued delivery of the outreach program, including teaching resources, catering and hygiene supplies for the health and nutrition program, technology, and equipment.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are half as likely to access early learning education and care as non-Indigenous children and more than twice as likely to start school with developmental gaps*. For children in remote communities, access is even more challenging.

“Through our adapted outreach program, we have continued to deliver early years education and important health messages to help families during the pandemic. We have equipped our educators with teaching resource kits and mobile tablets which has enabled them to adhere to health guidelines and deliver to small family groups in community or on Country in bush camps. We also have plans to utilise the mobile tablets to facilitate health teleconferences for families. Indi Kindi has become an essential front-line COVID-19-response service. This grant from UNICEF Australia will ensure we can continue this important work,” Ms. Hekking said.

Within the Borroloola community, Indi Kindi also provides training and employment for local women, 60 percent of whom have been with Indi Kindi for 4-5 years, an extraordinary outcome in terms of remote-region employment. All staff are engaged in study for a Certificate Three in Early Childhood Education and Care through the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education.

Nicole Breeze, Director of Australian programs for UNICEF Australia says COVID-19 has presented educational challenges across the nation, and that these are being felt sharply in remote communities where families can be more isolated, have less access to resources and little digital connection.

“The first 1,000 days in a child’s life have a profound effect on their future.  Participation in quality early learning programs makes a huge difference to a child’s health, development, ability to learn, and school readiness.

“Children of all ages across the country have experienced major disruptions to their learning because of the pandemic. We know that this is being sharply felt in remote communities where services are more limited.

“UNICEF Australia’s vision is to provide a fair chance to every child, and this starts with early educational opportunities. Indi Kindi’s ability to adapt to the circumstances of the pandemic and keep children learning has been incredible, and we are thrilled to support such innovation,” she said.

Indi Kindi has been in operation for eight years and has provided more than 800 children with early childhood education and care. Indi Kindi reaches 78 percent of children under five years of age who reside in the Borroloola and Robinson River communities. UNICEF Australia has been a supporter of Indi Kindi for the past year.

*SNAICC 2017, Ensuring a fair start for our children: The need for a dedicated funding stream for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early years sector

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