This presentation explores issues related to early childhood workforce development in remote Indigenous services in the NT. Issues include the importance of developing inclusive concepts of quality and mutual mentoring processes for managing power relations and cultivating intercultural understanding amongst Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff in remote services. Each of these issues impacts significantly on service sustainability, quality, community use and development.
Early childhood services in remote Indigenous communities are receiving significant attention under the impetus created by new government initiatives designed to ensure high quality for young children's development and care. One of these includes a requirement to employ 4-year university trained early childhood teachers in early childhood services serving 4 year olds. Recruiting qualified staff in remote schools is difficult, let alone finding such staff for children's services where conditions of employment are far less appealing. When recruits can be found, they usually enter the service as the director and/or mentor to local staff. As non-Indigenous staff members, these individuals are likely to find themselves in a profoundly unfamiliar situation where their cultural values, views and expertise are not necessarily accepted or understood. Given the many other challenges of living remotely, it is not surprising that many of these recruits do not last.
What is often not recognised is that there already exists a strong and remarkably tenacious local Indigenous early childhood workforce in many remote communities. However, with a few exceptions, they hold no formal qualifications in early childhood. Support for negotiating cultural expectations around what quality means and what qualifications a person must possess to ensure quality, from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives, may be the key to staff retention and quality service development.
The consequences of frequent staff turnover include a lack of continuity in the direction and focus of the service, fluctuations in the levels of quality and significant variation in the degree to which the families will use the service, depending on their confidence, trust and belief that the service is being run properly and in the best interests of their children. In order to develop a sustainable local workforce and increase service quality, it is critical that workforce issues are addressed appropriately. The starting point is a better understanding of the intercultural dynamics that operate in early childhood workforce development in remote NT.