A time to educate, not celebrate: 26 January  

Jessica Staines

The date 26 January holds a complex place in Australia’s history. While some celebrate it as Australia Day, this date also marks a day of mourning for First Nations people as the date the first British colonies landed, starting centuries of mistreatment and displacement for Aboriginal people.  

In early childhood education this day presents an opportunity to educate rather than celebrate, aligning with the principles of social justice, equality and equity.  

By approaching this date with a focus on education and inclusion, based on the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and other national standards, early childhood educators can create opportunities for the children in their service to learn more about our country’s history and understand different experiences and perspectives.  

An opportunity to learn.  

The date offers a chance to discuss with children the issues of fairness and bias, as emphasised in Outcome Two of the EYLF.  

By sharing the significance of 26 January from various perspectives, you can facilitate critical thinking about fair and unfair behavior. This can be done through in-centre conversations, connecting with First Nations organisations, and using resources that provide Aboriginal perspectives and experiences. 

There are plenty of age-appropriate books available that use storytelling to share the Aboriginal experience, and to tell the history of our nation. We recommend a number of books here, including Day Break by Amy McQuire and Matt Chun, and The Sacred Hill by Gordon Hookey. 

Integrating 26 January into educational programs helps draw attention to current affairs affecting First Nations peoples. This is not a just historical discussion, it’s about understanding ongoing issues and injustices. By proactively including this date in programming, you can broaden children’s worldview and support critical thinking about social justice. 

Always was, always will be 

Acknowledging that sovereignty was never ceded is crucial. Nationwide protests and marches against the celebration of Australia Day highlight the ongoing struggle of Aboriginal people. Educators must navigate these complexities, and recognise the differing viewpoints on whether to change the date or abolish the celebration entirely.  

You might be challenged with tough questions from families in your centre. But rather than ignoring the date, treat it as an opportunity to teach children about social justice, inclusion and exclusion. This starts a broader conversation with the families and community around your centre, and helps to encourage informed debate.   

It’s not personal  

Decisions about how to approach the date should be underpinned by national frameworks like the EYLF and the National Quality Standard (NQS), not personal opinions. Policies should clarify what is and isn’t celebrated, reflecting a commitment to inclusion and ethical practices as stated in the Code of Ethics for educators. 

Support for a change of date are happening at a national policy level, and Early Childhood Australia has stated:  

ECA stands alongside Reconciliation Australia in their call to change the date of Australia Day, and agrees with Chief Executive Karen Mundine that ‘a relatively small task’ would ‘demonstrate a willingness to address past wrongs’ and move to a stronger, more respectful relationship in the future. Our work in partnership with many key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations confirms the need to listen closely with respect and act to change situations that cause further harm. 

Even if your centre has a Reconciliation Action Plan and takes part in celebrations such as NAIDOC Week, if you choose to also celebrate 26 January as Australia Day, you’re not truly creating a culturally safe environment for First Nations families, or reflecting the diverse experiences of Australians.  

Starting the conversation. 

Open communication with families is essential. Be prepared to address concerns and questions, and emphasise that your approach is based on national guidelines and creating a culturally safe environment. It’s about truth-telling and educating the next generation, who will shape future decisions. 

The date 26 January provides a platform for early childhood educators to educate and reflect on Australia’s diverse history.  

It’s a chance to stand in solidarity with First Nations peoples, creating culturally safe environments where children learn about history and appreciate Aboriginal perspectives. By doing so, educators can play a crucial role in fostering a more inclusive and understanding society, helping to heal past wounds and build a better future for all Australians. 

Find out more at: https://kooricurriculum.com/pages/educators-dont-celebrate-january-26 

ECA Recommends: Reconciliation in Action

Co-Edited by Joanne Goodwin and Catharine Hydon

Take the next step in your reconciliation journey with this curated collection of stories that paint a picture of reconciliation from multiple perspectives, as it is now and as it might be in the future.

Jessica Staines

Jessica Staines is an early childhood educator, professional speaker, author, advocate and advisor. As the founder and director of Koori Curriculum, Jessica is committed to helping educators embed Aboriginal perspectives into early childhood education. She has played many significant roles nationally and internationally in building cultural understanding, reconciliation and harmony, including as an Indigenous advisor to ABC’s Playschool. Jessica’s family are originally from Wiradjuri Country, but due to displacement have lived Off-Country on Gadigal and Wangal lands for four generations. Jessica is proud to be a Wiradjuri woman, and today lives on Darkinjung Country with her husband and two children.

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