Playgroup helping Martu kids get school-ready

Support development in Indigenous communities


Setting a solid foundation for a lifetime of learning

“If you invest in the early years, it changes people’s whole life,” says local school teacher Sarah Mortimer about the importance of supporting young children in the community of Punmu.

Punmu is one of the most remote communities in Australia with most of its residents local Martu; the traditional owners of a large stretch of the Western Desert in Western Australia’s East Pilbara.

Here, World Vision has been invited by Martu Elders, parents and caretakers to run a playgroup for children aged 0-5. At playgroup children learn to recognise letters and numbers, get used to a routine and focus on tasks.

Local mother and playgroup facilitator Marissa said if it wasn’t for the playgroup her daughter Anya wouldn’t have been as ready for school as she was.

“Anya learned quick from playgroup and moved into big school. That’s why when the teacher asks me, ‘Oh, she can do the work quick,’ and I said, ‘You know why, because taking her to playgroup, so she’s been learning from playgroup quick’.” Marissa said.

Before World Vision started working with the community in 2009, Punmu had never had a playgroup or any early childhood service, meaning that many children were entering school developmentally behind and not feeling confident about formal learning.


A cross-cultural approach

Sarah, Anya’s teacher, has been delighted with the school-readiness of Martu kids since the playgroup started. “I’ve really noticed a difference. Anya had been at playgroup since she was very young, and her mum is very actively involved in playgroup as well. And [when] she came in, she could count to 20 and write the first letter of her name. But she also knew school behaviours; how to learn.”

The children at playgroup learn in both English and Martu Wangka; their first language, and engage in cultural activities like bush trips with Elders. World Vision Project Manager Yvonne Mkandara said it’s very important to the community that their children are learning both Martu and non-Martu ways.

“Parents, carers, the whole of the community said, ‘We want our children to be strong both ways. We want them to learn the mainstream way and we also want them to be really strong in our own way, in our cultural way.’ Yvonne said.

World Vision has been working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities since 1974. It currently partners with 18 communities across Australia to deliver early childhood, leadership and development programs designed and led by community members.