Canberra researchers are leading the way for early STEM Learning after receiving a $130,000 donation from an international software giant.
The welcome injection of funds into the University of Canberra's Early Learning STEM Australia program has allowed it to pioneer some groundbreaking learning techniques across Canberra and surrounding NSW.
Program director Thomas Lowrie said the results were promising for the future of education in the region.
"What we found was really beyond our expectations," he said.
"The use of ELSA actually had dramatically improved children's skills."
Using play-based learning, the program is aimed at building skills that can be transferred to areas that "aren't always attractive to young children like mathematics", researchers said.
The philanthropic donation by software organisation Rapid7 has come to Canberran researchers at an important time for the program, given uncertainty surrounding school attendance.
"It was a really challenging year for our footprint: lots of our schools were exposed to fires and then there was the COVID disruption to learning," Professor Lowrie said.
Since the program's inception in 2018, researchers estimate that despite being out of the classroom last year, it had managed to reach more than 11,000 children.
With the donation, Professor Lowrie said his team had been able to reach those schools that traditionally missed out on technology-based programs.
"We were able to put more of our team in the field providing resources to those schools without advanced technological capabilities," he said.
Now, he said, the program was in a place where it was ready to make a permanent jump into classrooms across the nation.
"Now that it has worked, and I say that with confidence, we can take it to the next level with the work we are doing with the Department of Education," he said.
Having secured a long-term commitment with the federal government at the end of last year, researchers will now be working with $5.4 million dollars worth of funding to get the program running across Australia.
Professor Lowrie said that with this positive future, Rapid7's donation could not have come at a better time.
"This donation now means that the program will be able to get out there faster and with a higher quality," he said.
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