Gunnedah’s Samantha Watton has been doing the hard yards to convince parents of the importance of early childhood education.
The Pathfinders employee is a mover and shaker in the Aboriginal Early Years Program, which aims to get more Aboriginal children into pre-school and school readiness programs.
Ms Watton has been trying to connect services and Indigenous families in Gunnedah, Narrabri, Wee Waa and Quirindi to ensure each child has the opportunity to access early childhood education.
The Gamilaroi woman’s goal is for all Aboriginal children aged 3-5 attending school readiness or pre-school programs for a minimum of two days a week during the year. By term four of the year before they go to school, she would like to see them attending four days a week.
“Our goal is to at least start with one day, and go on from there,” Ms Watton said.
“As long as they’re attending, that’s a win for us.”
However, it’s not that straight-forward.
“With Gunnedah, as I talk to families I’ve been noticing there’s a big gap here, especially with Indigenous families, low-income families, and non-working families,” Ms Watton said.
“Not many [Indigenous] families are using early childhood education… which doesn’t make the transition to school very easy.
“They don’t understand the need for early childhood education before school.”
My goal for Gunnedah this year is to get all of the services working together and making sure all the children in our community are in early childhood education.Samantha Watton, Pathfinders
Ms Watton is a big believer in early childhood education because she is both a parent and an early childhood educator who has previously worked at Li’l Achievers, Gunnedah Preschool and Winanga-li Aboriginal Child and Family Centre.
Her experience helps her to address some of the major barriers to education she has been encountering such as the idea of centres and pre-schools as simply being “babysitters”.
“A lot of people see it as easier to get nan or pop to look after the children… or they think, ‘If I don’t work, I don’t need childcare’,” Ms Watton said.
“I would like to break that down and say, ‘There are a whole heap of benefits for your children’.
“That’s got to be the hardest thing – getting people thinking differently towards early childhood education.”
Ms Watton said other factors deterring Aboriginal families from education were the cost of fees, lack of transportation and lack of places in the centres and pre-schools.
A major objective for the support officer this year is to see local services communicating about places and wait lists.
“We need to be advocating for early childhood education,” Ms Watton said.
“My goal for Gunnedah this year is to get all of the services working together and making sure all the children in our community are in early childhood education, especially ages three to five.
“At the end of the day, as early childhood educators we all have the same goals – to give kids the best start in life.”