How do Yolŋu recognise and understand their children's learning? Nhaltjan ŋuli ga Yolŋuy nhäma ga märr-dharaŋan djamarrkuḻiw marŋgithinyawuy?

Emily Armstrong, Ḻäwurrpa Maypilama, Lyn Fasoli, Abbey Guyula, Megan Yunupiŋu, Jane Garrutju, Rosemary Gundjarranbuy, Dorothy Gapany, Jenine Godwin-Thompson, Anne Lowell

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Indigenous families have culturally-specific strengths, priorities, and methods for assessing their children’s development. Recognition and support of children’s and families’ strengths are important for identity, health and wellbeing. However, strengths can be missed in assessment processes developed in non-Indigenous contexts. Yolŋu are First Nations Australian peoples from North-East Arnhem Land. This study was conducted to explore Yolŋu early childhood development, assessment and support in response to concerns that Yolŋu strengths and priorities are often not recognised. The cultural and linguistic expertise of Yolŋu researchers was central in this qualitative study. Rich empirical data were collected through a form of video reflexive ethnography with six children and their extended families over seven years and through in-depth interviews with 38 other community members. An iterative process of data collection and analysis engaged Yolŋu families and researchers in a collaborative, culturally responsive research process which drew on constructivist grounded theory methods. Findings illustrate how Yolŋu children are immersed in complex layers of intertwined and continuous testing and teaching processes integrating holistic frameworks of cultural identity and connection, knowledge and practices. Yolŋu families monitor and recognise a child’s development through both direct and explicit testing and through observing children closely so that children can be supported to keep learning and growing into their knowledge, strengths and identity. Yolŋu expressed concern that such learning is invisible when the child is viewed through non-Yolŋu lenses and assessed with processes and tools from outside the community. Indigenous peoples have a right to culturally congruent assessment of their children. Those who share the child’s culture and language have the expertise to ensure that cultural strengths and priorities are recognised and understood.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0272455
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalPLoS One
Issue number8 August
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

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© 2022 Armstrong et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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