But thanks to some innovative technology solutions, offered through the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Early Start Program, early childhood educators are able to take steps towards levelling the playing field.
Director of Information Management and Technology Services, Fiona Rankin, was named CIO of the Year for Education at the 2017 iTnews Benchmark Awards, for her work on the program.
“The goal of the Early Start program is to basically give every child, regardless of location, the best start in life,” Rankin explains.
“And to help children flourish and realise their potential by improving understanding of child development and learning, supporting and enhancing the ways in which people care for and work with children, and engaging with parents and communities to support the environments in which children grow.”
She says in a nutshell, the program is about research, education, teaching and playing.
The Early Start Program involves four core elements.
One is an international hub for multidisciplinary research, which Rankin says involves heavy-duty research technologies.
There’s also the early start facility, a “state-of-the art educational facility which creates transformational learning experiences for university students working with children, their families and the community.”
The third element, is an Early Start Discovery Space, which according to Rankin is Australia’s only dedicated children’s museum, which uses technology solutions to promote learning through play.
“There’s a whole raft of really fun things in there, like ships and archeological digs and all sorts of things,” she says.
“...I’ve been to one of the local centres and seen the children using the technology, and they just love it … they’re all hands-on … kids just have a ball, they really get engaged.”
And last but not least, Early Start has partnered with 41 early childhood centres across NSW and the ACT, equipping them with ‘tech bundles’ including video conferencing, iPads, smart whiteboards and tables.
These devices are also being used for staff training and networking between centres.
Rankin says using their new technology, early childhood educators have also been able to conduct virtual tours of the discovery space for their students.
“The children can sit in front of the smart board, and they can use the video conferencing facility.
“So while the children might never get to the centre themselves, they can experience the exhibit through the technology that they have,” she says.
The program was developed through a philanthropic grant from the Abbott Foundation, a private ancillary fund aimed at providing funding for organisations engaged in the development and education of young children.
“I think this program is a really wonderful use of technology for the betterment of humankind really, it’s technology at its best,” Rankin says.
“There’s a lot of bad things about technology, and there’s a lot of good things we can do with technology, and I think this is one of the fantastic examples where we’re changing people’s lives, which is quite touching.”