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Differences from Balanda


Strengths in child development and child rearing are often not recognised by others from outside the community who do not share the language and cultural background of Yolŋu children and their families.  This is reflected in early childhood assessment processes that use a language the child doesn't speak (English) and focus on skills and knowledge that may not be relevant to the child's experience.

A strength that is often not recognised is the intensity of communication between families and babies and young children. This is a feature of Yolŋu culture that Yolŋu see as different from the communication they have observed in Balanda families: 

Talking to the kids is like the work of a teacher – Balanda always talk too much to adults but not the kids, Yolŋu are different - we talk to kids when they are newborn, we still talk to them – right up to when they are growing. Because Balanda get toys, get a cot, lie kids down to just stare at the toys but Yolŋu - it’s common when the little baby arrives in our community we carry it and always talk… (Yalŋarra Guyula, Yolŋu researcher)

Confusing ‘’difference" with “deficit”

The child's language and cognitive skills as well of a range of other skills and knowledge can be missed or misinterpreted when assessed 'through Balanda eyes'.  As a result cultural differences can be confused with deficit.

Understanding the difference between an ‘attention deficit’ and a cultural difference in listening behavior is one example: Yolŋu children are not expected to signal their attention through looking at the speaker - they 'listen with their ears not their eyes'.

As well, Yolŋu children are encouraged and expected to process multiple signals at the same time i.e. simultaneous processing rather than 'selective attention' that is valued and tested by Balanda. 

Recognising different ways of listening is important to distinguish between cultural difference and deficit: the child might not seem to be paying attention (according to a Balanda interpretation) while they are playing, moving around, looking away but their response demonstrates their ability to attend to multiple signals and activities at the same time as the videos below illustrate.