Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

The Impact of Early Numeracy Engagement on Four-Year-Old Indigenous Students

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

The Impact of Early Numeracy Engagement on Four-Year-Old Indigenous Students

Article excerpt


YOUNG INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIAN students continue to experience difficulties at school, especially in the areas of literacy and numeracy. Results from the National Report on Schooling, National Benchmarks for reading, writing and numeracy in Years 3, 5 and 7 demonstrate a high percentage of Indigenous Australian children performing well below the benchmark (ACER, 2005; MCEETYA, 2008). The latest National Report on Schooling in Australia (MCEETYA, 2008) includes the following results for Indigenous students obtained from testing in 2006. Seventy-two per cent of Indigenous Queensland students are achieving at the benchmark for numeracy in Year 3. This is significantly below their achievement in both reading (88.5 per cent) and writing (89.7 per cent), and also significantly below the achievement of Indigenous students in five other states. Similar trends exist in the National Scores. While reading and writing scores have been gradually improving for Indigenous students since 1999, there has been little change in the numeracy results. The Year 5 and Year 7 numeracy results mirror the results found in Year 3.

Unjustified blame has been laid upon Indigenous students in the past, and absenteeism, disadvantaged social background and culture have all be seen as contributing factors (Bourke & Rigby, 2000). This paradigm is seen as irresponsible (Cooper, Baturo, Warren, & Doig, 2004; Matthews, Howard & Perry, 2003; Sarra, 2003). Historically, most educational efforts have aimed to assimilate Indigenous students into Euro Australian society and are based on the ideology of cultural deprivation (Prochner, 2004). Our longitudinal research project, Young Australian Indigenous students' Literacy and Numeracy (YAILN) draws on and adapts relevant mainstream research about young students' numeracy learning, and endeavours to situate these findings in local settings where Indigenous cultural practices are recognised and respected. To date, there have been few published studies on the impact of early childhood education on Indigenous students (Prochner, 2004).

Theoretical underpinnings

Briefly, the research base and design principles that underpinned the development of the Numeracy aspect of YAILN were:

* Maths ability: All children are capable of learning mathematics. Children do not have to be made ready to learn as they freely engage with informal mathematics in everyday life (Greenes, 1999).

* Role of the teachers: Play is not enough to assist learning in the early years. Children learn through play but they need adult guidance to assist them to reach their full learning potential (e.g. Balfanz, Ginsburg & Greenes, 2003; Vygotsky, 1962). As compared with other cohorts of early years students, Indigenous students gain even less from attending play-based programs (Tayler, Thorpe & Bridgstock, 2006, cited in Fleer & Rabin, 2007).

* Types of activities: Hands-on activity-based learning best helps young Indigenous students to engage with mathematics (Cooper, Baturo, Warren & Grant, 2006).

* Role of oral language: A focus on the language of mathematics fosters important language acquisition and helps students to acquire meta-cognitive abilities. This focus is even more relevant for students whose first language is not English (Pappas, Ginsburg & Jiang, 2003). Yet pathways for oral language experiences tend to be restricted in early childhood settings (Kennedy, Ridgway & Surman, 2006).

* Maths curriculum: Young students are capable of dealing with a comprehensive mathematics curriculum (Greenes, Ginsburg & Balfanz, 2004).

* Indigenous students' language: Aboriginal English reflects the culture and identity of Aboriginal people (Cronin & Diezmann, 2002) and discourses of Indigenous families often do not match that of the school (Cairney, 2003).Teachers need to create a bridge for young Indigenous students between Aboriginal English (AE) and Standard Australian English (SAE) as these students grapple with new language, new concepts and vocabulary presented for literacy and numeracy. …

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