A ground-breaking early childhood education is creating social impact beyond just teaching the next generation of community leaders on Country. 

When Deandra McDinny first visited an Indi Kindi session, she quickly realised it was where she wanted to be.

The Garrwa woman recalled the day she visited the session, and how it felt to discover the role that Indi Kindi was playing in the lives of children from remote Aboriginal communities.

“I looked around and said to myself, I want to be part of these kids’ journey, to help them have the best start in life,” she explained.

She’s now been an educator with Indi Kindi for six years and said it has changed her life.

“I wake up with a smile and I know I’m going to be a part of a little kid’s life. I’ve been much more confident to speak out and be a part of the community. It is my privilege to come to work every day and be part of a kid’s life.”

An On-Country Solution

Indi Kindi is an early years program for Aboriginal children under five, run in the remote NT communities of Borroloola and Tennant Creek.

Founded in 2011, it’s operated by the Moriarty Foundation and is guided by an advisory group made up of Elders, Traditional Owners, local leaders and families.

The advisory group provides feedback and suggestions on what needs to be done to help Country and the children.

The children in the program learn on Country and are taught by educators from their community, with the program incorporating health, wellbeing, early education, and development.

McDinny said connecting to Country was vital for Aboriginal children and helped them to learn better.

“Our elders, they never had a classroom. They were always outside … we head down the river. It’s a good environment to have fresh air and to just sit in the shade with the kids,” she explained.

“Young kids in the natural environment learn better when they’re walking and their brains are mobile. This is the best way to learn for these young Indigenous learners.”

The students learn through play in lessons that are suited to their young age, on subjects like the environment and sport.

Kids might go to the arts centre to connect with artists and learn how to use a canvas and paint, or they’ll visit the dentist and learn about oral health.

At all points, they are immersed in the environment around them.

“All of that means they learn about who they are and where they come from and what they know about the community,” McDinny said.

Indi Kindi’s students and their families are flourishing in the learning environment. McDinny said her son runs to the bus every morning, keen to get to school. Families are also pleased with the program she said, and are enjoying seeing the little projects their kids come home with.

“They trust us with their kids because they know they’re going to get fed and looked after. They know us and they have fun learning through play.”

A Pathway To Employment

As well as transforming the lives of children, Indi Kindi is offering training and employment to remote communities. The program currently employs 14 local Aboriginal educators in Borroloola and Tennant Creek.

In these communities, unemployment rates are around 50 per cent and there is limited access to education, training and jobs.

Indi Kindi has developed a training and job development model to match its early childhood program. It focuses on building the capacity and work readiness of locally employed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, through supporting formal training and upskilling and providing meaningful local and ongoing employment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

All the educators study a Cert 3 in Early Childhood Education and Care at the Batchelor Institute. Recently, Borroloola Indi Kindi educator and Yanyuwa woman Andrea Norman completed her studies there, becoming the first person in her family to graduate from tertiary education.

More students will graduate at the end of the year.

Of the Aboriginal educators employed by Indi Kindi – all of whom are Aboriginal women –  45 per cent have been employed for more than five years, including McDinny. This compares to the national average tenure for early childhood employees of 1.6 years.

“It is my privilege to come to work every day and be part of a kid’s life.”

Ros Moriarty, co-founder and managing director of Moriarty Foundation, said the foundation was proud of, and grateful for, the Indi Kindi educators and the work they do.

“That’s an enormous amount of hard work every day to deliver to the kids and to really deliver what our advisory group is advising us,” she said.

“It’s really the team that Deandra is describing who have done the hard yards. I mean, they’re on the ground every day and [the growth of Indi Kindi is] thanks really to their hard work and to the way they’ve developed and grown and they’ve committed to their professional development.”

As well as providing a pathway to TAFE, Moriarty also provides training for the educators in things like first aid and mental health first aid, food handling and even in driving.

Both Moriarty and McDinny said this contributes to the women being seen as role models in their communities.

“What we try and focus on is actually creating careers where our educators can keep developing their skill in early years [education]. But they are also developing that leadership and their capacity to support the community in lots of different ways,” Moriarty said.

“We talk a lot about the child being in the centre, the family around the child, the community around the family and Australia around that community. The community development aspect of this is just as important as the curriculum delivery.”