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The Fraser Mustard Centre is currently undertaking several research projects.
LiLO is a research study on language interaction with infants and toddlers living in English-speaking households.
The project aims to investigate the quality and quantity of language in the home environment during the early years. Through this research we aim to provide baseline data within an Australian context about the optimal amount of parent talk needed in order to support all domains of development during the first 5 years of life. This will help inform future interventions to improve language development and in turn, child health and overall development for Australian children.
In order to do this our research uses a small digital language recorder called Language Environment Analysis (LENA). LENA records the audio in the environment around the child and through specially designed software counts the number of words or vocalisations spoken by the child and parents.
Our research will involve a total of 600 families split into 2 cohorts, which will be located throughout the metropolitan suburbs of Adelaide. The first cohort will begin data collection in the second half of 2017 when the child turns 6 months old. The second cohort will begin in late 2018 with children turning 3 years old. Both groups of families will be visited by a research assistant every 6 months until their child turns 4 years old.
Visit the Telethon Kids Institute website to find out more about the study, including how to participate.
Review of the quality of evidence for preschool and school-based programs to support social and emotional skills, perseverance and academic self-concept
In recent years, there has been an increased focus from teachers, schools and education systems on helping to build and nurture student’s social and emotional skills, as well as their literacy, numeracy and communication skills. The first step is to understand the current level of social and emotional skills in SA children, and the second step is to understand the programs that schools can use to help develop children’s social and emotional skills. Significant progress has been made towards this goal in the past five years in SA with the collection of the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) in 2012 and 2015, and the Wellbeing and Engagement Census (WEC) in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 providing information about the social and emotional skills of SA students in reception and during the middle years of schooling (Year 6-9). This data provides a wealth of information that can be used to track the population over time and to explore differences between children based on their demographic characteristics and geographical location in the state.
The focus of the current project is on the second step - understanding the interventions and programs that schools can implement to help build these skills. This project aims to provide some tools and guidelines for schools and the Department for Education and Child Development to use to help select evidence-based programs that can be implemented within a preschool or school setting to help nurture children’s social and emotional skills.
As of December 2015, student wellbeing data had been collected from approximately 52,000 South Australian students in grades 6, 7, 8 and 9. Over 700 school reports had been completed and delivered to schools. Conducting a census of student’s wellbeing rather than completing small scale surveys provides information on students from every school, community, and region.
Given the important work that has been done to date, and the momentum within the education system to continue to collect student wellbeing data, it is imperative to review whether we are measuring the right aspects of student wellbeing and whether the scales that we are using are working effectively. The department commissioned this review from the Fraser Mustard Centre for the purpose of informing future decisions around which aspects of wellbeing should be measured at scale within schools and the quality of the tools available to do this.
The Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) is a validated population-level measure of wellbeing in middle childhood. The MDI was designed in Canada, to provide schools and communities with pragmatic data to inform policies and practice. It gives children a voice, an opportunity to communicate to adults about what their experiences are inside and outside of school, and has great potential to provide educators, parents, researchers and policy makers with much needed information about the psychological and social worlds of children.
The MDI project is a collaboration between researchers from the Telethon Kids Institute/University of Western Australian, Menzies School of Health Research, the University of British Columbia, and policy makers from the South Australian Department for Education and Child Development and the Department of Education in Western Australia.
Researchers completed a pilot project in 2013 measuring the wellbeing of approximately 6000 children across South Australia and Victoria in the middle years of school in order to provide summary information back to policy makers, schools and communities about the health and wellbeing of their children. In 2014, the Department for Education and Child Development completed a second round of data collection involving almost 18,000 children, including those who participated in the 2013 research trial, allowing the accuracy of data to be explored further and to provide these schools with two data points.
Participating schools have now received their school report containing data on students' self-reported wellbeing. In 2013 the MDI received additional financial support through an ARC Linkage grant to establish the validity of the MDI in Australia, explore the international comparability of the instrument between Australia and Canada, and culturally adapt the MDI for Australian Aboriginal children, by leveraging off the MDI data collected.
South Australia, through the Department for Education and Child Development, has been tasked with leading a national project that will provide a comprehensive picture of the range of data collections and specific screening and assessment tools used across health, early childhood and education sectors to consider ways in which these tools can support practice, policy development and national research priorities. An initial state-specific review is currently being undertaken, which will provide a foundation for this project.
The overall objectives of the evaluation are to:
- consider what developmental domains (and family factors that influence) should be screened and assessed to best respond to learning and development needs
- determine when these measures would be best implemented taking into consideration sensitive periods in development
- develop current contact points for screening and assessment in South Australia.
It is widely known how important it is for children to be supported as they transition to school. To do this well requires information about children’s learning and development and knowing when to give extra help.
The Department for Education and Child Development is committed to use the best available evidence to aid students and put information in the hands of teachers.
Building on the learnings from the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC), this year an ‘on-entry to school’ tool will be field-tested in selected preschools and schools. Based on the findings of the field testing, a larger trial across sites is intended for 2017.
The aim is to put evidence about every child’s learning into the hands of families and educators. This will help to tell us which children are on track and are travelling fine and help us to follow up on additional learning needs in a consistent way across the transition to school. It is anticipated that this information will assist schools to create educational plans for children as they progress through school.
We are leading work with sites to develop the on-entry to school measures based on current evidence about:
- children’s physical development
- social and emotional skills
- executive functioning
- numeracy and literacy.
If you have initial comments or feedback please feel free to contact the centre on (08) 8207 2079 or by sally.brinkman [at] telethonkids.org.au. As part of the consultation process around this work, feedback will be sought more broadly across the department over the coming months.
Fraser Mustard Centre
Phone: 8207 2039
Email: Info.FraserMustard [at] sa.gov.au