7 Dec 2021
“It’s a new environment, in which people are not speaking their language – everyone else around them is speaking English – and that’s very traumatising to a child when they’re first starting.” – Educator
A new program in Shepparton that prepares children from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds for school is turning out to be helping their parents just as much.
The Little Learners Project provides language support to enable children from culturally and linguistically diverse communities to access early education.
The Greater Shepparton Foundation is behind the project. The region has pockets of entrenched disadvantage with one in six people and nearly half of households with dependent children living below the poverty line.
In 2021, the first Little Learners intake saw two multilingual support workers helping 19 children at two children’s centres for five hours a week.
The program is continuing in 2022, expanding to three language support workers covering Swahili, Arabic, Malay, Filipino, Dari, Dinka, and Punjabi in three kindergartens.
Foundation CEO Cheryl Hammer says children from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds often experience displacement and trauma that impacts their early development.
“Research shows that engagement of vulnerable children has a substantial impact on a child’s cognitive, emotional and social development, and two years of kindergarten impacts positively on a child’s long-term development and academic outcomes,” she says.
“Little Learners’ bilingual support workers are vital links between the child and the educators, the families and the educators, and between non-English speaking and English-speaking children.
Cheryl says the relationships also improve parents’ knowledge of the education system.
Some parents have shared their thoughts about the program in this year’s Annual Report, noting that they no longer felt ‘small and limited’, and that bilingual workers helped with forms and practicalities.
“Having language support means we can speak for ourselves, without shame or embarrassment,” one parent said.
The Ross Trust has granted $120,000 over three years to Greater Shepparton Foundation for the program. The Besen Family Foundation also supports the program.