Local & Indigenous knowledge in early childhood education

Jessica Ball, School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria, Canada

Project background

Strengthening professional and community capacity in the early years sector is a priority in many countries. In Canada, Indigenous capacity to advocate, plan, and operate early childhood programs has increased significantly since 2000. Many communities have qualified practitioners for home visiting, Aboriginal Head Start, supported child development for children with special needs, youth outreach, and family support. Projects and consulting within ECDIP have contributed to this momentum.

In low income countries, there remains a critical shortage of well-prepared practitioners and informed policy makers for the early childhood sector. This is partly due to a lack of credible, in-country training courses and professional development opportunities. Several initiatives within the Early Childhood Development Intercultural Partnerships Program are aimed at supporting the development of practitioner capacity at every level – from workshops for parents and paraprofessional to post-graduate courses for leadership development, to evaluation of service systems. Projects have been located in sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Greenland, Solomon Islands, and elsewhere.

Successful capacity building initiatives demonstrate the need for ingenuity, flexibility, deployment of resources, and persistence in how training is delivered and the content of training curricula. Most importantly, education and training must address community-identified goals for development, harness and build upon local resources, and incorporate local funds of knowledge and ways of life to meet locally identified needs and goals. The diagram, created with partners in Bhutan, illustrates this generative approach. …..

First Nations Partnerships Program: Success story

The First Nations Partnerships Program led by Professors Alan Pence and Jessica Ball at the University of Victoria in partnership with 10 groups of First Nations was a success story in capacity development (www.fnpp.org). In response to an invitation from the Meadow Lake Tribal Council of Saskatchewan, the program became the first in Canada to deliver two years of university accredited education in Indigenous communities. Every course involved cultural Elders to co-generate the course content. There were a total of 151 graduates from 57 First Nations. The program's unprecedented success has been recognized with several awards, including from UNESCO, which recognized it as one of 20 'best practices' across disciplines from around the world that incorporate Indigenous knowledge. Research evaluations of this innovative program have yielded new knowledge about how to support participation in post-secondary education and promote community capacity for development of child and family services.

From professional development to promising practices

A follow-up study found significant positive change in three of the groups of First Nations communities four years after community members graduated from the two-year diploma program. Nearly all graduates were employed in child and family serving agencies or schools in their home communities. Goals had been achieved for providing community-based services for children and families, drawing upon cultural traditions as well as knowledge from Euro-western science. A report entitled Hook and Hub has informed several new federal and provincial initiatives in Indigenous learning, childcare, and advocacy for integrated and coordinated service delivery to children and families.

Determinants of program success shown in evaluation research

Community-based delivery

Face-to-face education without leaving home

Generative Curriculum Model

Incorporation of Indigenous Knowledge alongside university-based curricula

Recruiting emerging leaders

Involving community-identified leaders with recognized skills in promoting child well-being

Cohort engagement

Social support, cultural safety, regional networking

Flexible scheduling

Accommodating cultural and harvesting cycles

Laddered credential sequence

Incremental professional development and credentials through articulated, accredited courses


View all reports and resources related to this project.