A longitudinal study following the impact of digital technologies on kids from birth until the age of eight is the focus of a new $67.1 million ARC Centre of Excellence announced by the federal government on Monday.
Based at the Queensland University of Technology, the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child is set to probe the effects of growing up being exposed to “unprecedented” access to technology, Education Minister Dan Tehan said.
“This new centre will undertake a family cohort study, run children’s technology laboratories and lead research programs to improve our knowledge of the effects of digital technology on children,” he said.
The government has put $34.9 million towards the centre, which will be supported by five Australian universities and 33 academic and industry partner organisations from Europe, Asia and the US who are contributing $32.2 million in cash and in-kind support to the centre.
“The results of this research will benefit parents and inform improvements to children’s health and education policy," Tehan said.
“The centre will also develop open access resources and professional training to help minimise digital risks and encourage positive digital experiences.”
Early childhood researcher at QUT, Professor Susan Danby, who leads the new centre, said issues like the amount of screen time children are exposed to, social media, online safety and digital gaming will all be considered as part of the study.
Danby will be working with a multidisciplinary team including experts in education, health, and digital and social connectedness to deliver policy recommendations and guidelines, while also contributing to public debate around the realities of a child’s life in a digital world.
Deakin University’s Professor Julian Sefton-Green, who will also be working with the centre, said that one of the most conflicting elements of modern digital life for parents and teachers is the conflicting evidence around screen time.
“Fears and concerns can lead to parents restricting or limiting screen time but this can also result in children missing out on opportunities to use digital technology in ways that will help them flourish,” he said.
Sefton-Green’s point is supported by a new meta-analysis of 58 studies from 23 countries published in JAMA Pediatrics on Monday, which suggests the type of content - and not the overall screen time - is the critical element in whether digital technologies negatively impact on children’s academic performance.
The centre also aims to produce practical guidance for families in safely navigating the digital environment and inform the development of new technologies aimed at young children
“This will involve improving curriculum and learning materials for educators so they can better enable students’ digital learning as well as designing innovations to ensure children are learning in safe digital environments,” Danby said.
“Australia will inform international agendas in minimising children’s digital risks and maximising positive digital engagement.
“The centre’s critical mass of researchers and industry partners will actively shape positive futures for all Australians by focusing on our very youngest.”