The state's Year 12 completion rates are well below the national average, and fewer Tasmanians have degrees than their interstate peers. So, recognising that its research agenda could help improve social policy and community wellbeing in Tasmania, in 2015 the University partnered with the Tasmanian Government and the Office of the Governor of Tasmania and established the Peter Underwood Centre.
One of the Centre's first initiatives was the Children's University Tasmania, based on the Children's University in the UK. The UK initiative started as a Saturday school project in the 1990s and quickly found that getting kids involved in activities outside the classroom can boost their academic success and interest in learning. Today, the Children's University focuses on children aged between seven and 14 years old, encouraging them to take part in validated activities outside school hours.
By 2017, Children's University Tasmania had 167 'graduates' with 11,360 hours of validated activities under their belts. In 2018 the program has continued to expand and can now boast 32 schools and more than 700 participants statewide. Philanthropic support from the Tasmanian Community Fund has enabled the program to be extended to include 10 schools in the North-West.
Each student activity links to a university course, and that can encompass a wide range of interests. Examples of Tasmanian activities have included: being 'guest stars' in ABC TV's comedy series Rosehaven; challenges in robotics, judo, or archery; or spending time at a gemstone club, rhododendron garden, or the Australian Antarctic Festival.
Each member receives a 'passport to learning' in which their hours of validated activity are recorded. Once they reach their required number of hours participants graduate from Children's University. High profile graduation ceremonies are held in conjunction with the University of Tasmania.
Peter Underwood Centre director, Professor Natalie Brown, says they've already started to see change.
"The research evidence in the UK, and our own preliminary evaluations, clearly shows extra-curricular learning and parent engagement support children's love of learning," Professor Brown said.
"The intention of participants to go to University or VET is about double that of non-participants at member schools."
Children's University is just one aspect of the Centre's focus on the best ways to keep children engaged in learning – in school or elsewhere. In collaboration with other stakeholders, the Centre's researchers are investigating ways to support a whole-of-community approach to promoting educational attainment. Reflecting the belief that education is everyone's business, our media page is regularly updated with examples of people and projects that are making a difference.
Working in partnership with the Department of Education, the Centre is involved in the provision of professional learning programs with a focus on creativity, experiential learning and using engaging technologies. The Peter Underwood Centre also provides forums for disseminating knowledge through its monthly Horizon Series seminars and biennial Education Transforms conferences.
About the researchers
Professor Stratford’s research is motivated by trying to understand the conditions in which people flourish in place, in their movements, in daily life, and over the life-course. These matters of significance to studies in human society spur her to sustained intellectual effort, because they profoundly affect quality of life, ways of being in the world, and our relationships to other species and the Earth.
Professor Natalie Brown joined the Peter Underwood Centre as Director in July 2017. Prior to this, she had held the position of Director, Academic Quality and the Tasmanian Institute of Learning and Teaching in the Academic Division at the University of Tasmania. Natalie brings a wealth of experience in education and research into this position. In her early career as a teacher of Science and Mathematics, Natalie taught in both the North-West and Hobart regions, across years 7-12.
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