Australian researchers join global Think Equal early years program

Australian researchers join global Think Equal early years program

by Freya Lucas

October 22, 2019

Australian researchers from Federation University have become involved with a global education initiative which is aiming to revolutionise teaching by introducing social and emotional learning in the earliest years of school. 

 

Designed by leading international experts, the Think Equal program teaches social and emotional learning to students aged three to six years of age.

 

The program was created by human rights activist Leslee Udwin, who was inspired to create the program while producing and directing the documentary India’s Daughter

 

Working on India’s Daughter drove Ms Udwin to start Think Equal, which is calling for a fundamental change in education to provide positive life outcomes for all children. Patrons of Think Equal include Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep and internationally recognised creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson.

 

In late 2018, Federation University was approached to partner with Yale University’s Centre for Emotional Intelligence to introduce the Think Equal initiative in Australia, and to evaluate the program within the Australian context.

 

Under the guidance of Dr Sue Emmett, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education, and Lynne Reeder, Research Associate within the School of Health and Life Sciences, a randomised control trial (RCT) of Think Equal involving 500 children is taking place in early childhood centres around Victoria and Queensland. 

 

After designing the trial, the researchers received ethics approval from Federation University and the Department of Education and Training to run the program, and held education sessions and support forums for the early childhood teachers who are delivering the program within the early childhood centres.

Dr Emmett said the trial, the biggest of its type being done, is unique because randomised control trials in education were unusual, with most RCTs typically performed in medical research.

Think Equal is largely narrative-based, with books and stories, and teachers are supplied with three levels of step-by-step guides which are provided free of charge. The program runs over 30 weeks, with 90 lesson plans implemented over three 30-minute sessions per week.

 

Excited by the opportunity afforded by the program, Dr Emmett said it has potential to influence policy and change the life circumstances of children. 

 

“We have quite high levels of training for teachers and we have provided ongoing support for a large number of early childhood centres across Victoria and Queensland that are involved in implementing the program,” Dr Emmett said.

 

The program will be completed by the end of the year and the results of the trial released in early 2020. Early indications from the project, Dr Emmett said, were promising, with focus groups for teachers giving anecdotal feedback that has been “pretty outstanding”, Dr Emmett said.

 

“They’re telling us things like they are seeing marked changes in children’s empathy, they’re seeing changes in children’s ability to deal with conflict, they’re seeing a whole range of different aspects along the social and emotional spectrum that really has made a change in children’s capabilities because they’ve been involved in this program,” she added. 

 

The Australian trial has led to a meeting with the adviser to the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan, and Dr Emmett said researchers were designing a research plan for a longitudinal study which will follow those 500 children up into their first year of school to see whether changes in behaviour of the children will be sustained over time.

 

To learn more about the research, please see here.

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