$31m uni facility to give kids best start

An artist’s impression of the Early Start learning facility planned for the University of Wollongong.A $31 million federal grant for a new early childhood learning facility at the University of Wollongong was a vote of confidence in the university’s work, Vice-Chancellor Paul Wellings said yesterday.
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The money, from the government’s Education Investment Fund (EIF), will go towards construction of the Early Start learning facility on campus.

The facility, which is expected to be open by 2015, will include teaching and research spaces for early childhood students and graduates as well as a Children’s Discovery Centre.

“It’s a red-letter day for the university, a really significant day,” Professor Wellings said.

“This is a transformational project which if done properly will create life opportunities for the next generation of Australians.”

The Early Start project has also received $7 million from Christopher Abbott, founder of the Abbott Foundation, which supports ventures that provide learning opportunities for young children.

Prof Wellings said a major part of the Early Start initiative would be to act as a hub for several Early Start Engagement Centres in areas as far south as Eden and west to Griffith.

“We are going to have 38 spokes around this hub across NSW, in primary schools and communities throughout the state, working with the teachers there to have placements of our students into those communities to work with parents around the importance of education,” he said.

Students studying at Early Start would take their knowledge into these areas and intervene with educationally or socially disadvantaged students in pre-schools and primary schools to give them the best possible start in their learning and development.

“Most of our life’s outcomes are determined by our first year of primary school,” Prof Wellings said.

“It determines whether we go to university and whether we’re successful. That’s actually quite scary. This project is part education, part social work and part health intervention around sport.

“We’re trying to bring that trifecta of health, social welfare and education together into a unique setting.

“I think it’s one of the world’s largest interventions of this sort, so it’s a spectacular thing to get into the Illawarra.”

The facility will be part of the Faculty of Education and the dean, Professor Paul Chandler, said Early Start had a “bold but simple mission”.

“That is to ensure all young children, their families and communities have the opportunities to be the best they can be,” Prof Chandler said.

UOW has received $134.9 million for a range of projects in the four rounds of EIF funding announced so far.

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