Alex Sutherland's ECEC scholarship story
The Sector > Quality > Professional development > From design to daycare: Alex Sutherland is a young man with ECEC promise

From design to daycare: Alex Sutherland is a young man with ECEC promise

by Freya Lucas

April 15, 2024

Alex Sutherland’s early childhood education and care (ECEC) journey is off to an amazing start, with trips to Sweden and Wales next month as part of the Early Childhood Education Scholarship he received last year. 


His trip to Sweden and Wales will see him conduct research during a three week study tour, where he will observe Playwork in practice in Wrexham, Wales, before heading to Stockholm to visit some ECEC services, and finally to Gothenburg, Sweden to view an art studio with principles which align with original learning. On return he will collate and share his findings with colleagues and the wider sector.


The New South Wales Department of Education spoke with Mr Sutherland recently to learn more about his motivation, the importance of creativity in the world of ECEC, and his thoughts on receiving an international scholarship. 


Mr Sutherland (pictured with NSW Premier Chris Minns, receiving the scholarship at a reception in Sydney on 17 October 2023) initially worked in a very different environment, designing film sets, a career he enjoyed until 26 years of age, when he was inspired to consider a pivot into ECEC, following in the footsteps of his early childhood teacher (ECT) mother. 


NSW Premier’s Teacher Scholarship


The NSW Premier’s Teacher Scholarship is an annual scholarships program that funds up to five weeks of dedicated study in Australia or abroad. Alex was awarded the Early Childhood Education Scholarship in October 2023 to explore the ‘Original Learning Approach’, developed by Swedish education consultant, Suzanne Axelsson.


“It’s a reflective tool to support early childhood professionals, driven by 10 principles such as wonder, curiosity and risk,” Mr Sutherland explained.

“My research will explore how it can be utilised by educators in an Australian context to engage children in big concepts like sustainability and justice.”


Theory into practice


Mr Sutherland completed his final placement for his Bachelor of Teaching at Hamilton Childcare Centre in Newcastle, NSW, a place where he still works today. 


At Hamilton, he, and his colleagues, employ the ‘loose parts play theory’, which focuses on providing children with materials and environments that encourage creative imagination.

“It’s about giving children the autonomy and freedom to work with materials they might not have at home, and to take some calculated risks to work through problems,” he explained.


Mr Sutherland also enjoys the challenge of finding new ways to engage young children.

“Early childhood is such a creative field, and it never stays still,” he said.

“I was working with a group of children that wouldn’t sit still for an art project we were doing on measurement. Eventually I thought we could make it more interactive by bringing in parkour! I got charcoal and huge paper and they got to express their ideas of measurement through movement.”


It’s this level of spontaneity and creativity which keeps him engaged with ECEC and all the dynamic possibilities it provides. 


Advice for others 


Mr Sutherland encourages others considering a move to ECEC to ‘go for it.’


“It’s fulfilling and rewarding seeing these little humans grow into confident, capable people over time, and knowing that you’ve had a positive impact on them,” he said.


“I see early childhood as one of the most important professions. As an early childhood teacher, you’re an advocate for their voice and for children’s rights. And you’re laying the foundations for children to be strong and have a good sense of justice.”


Next round of scholarships now open


The NSW Premier’s Teacher Scholarships provide $10,000 or $15,000 for a five-week study tour within Australia or abroad.


The program is open to permanent and temporary teachers in NSW government and non-government schools, on TAFE NSW campuses and across early childhood centres.

The Premier’s Early Childhood Education Scholarship is open to degree-qualified early childhood teachers who are currently teaching in ECEC services in NSW. The scholarship is for study in any aspect of early childhood education.


The program is an initiative of the NSW Premier’s Department and is administered by the NSW Department of Education. Applications for the next round close 11:59pm (AEST), Friday 3 May 2024.

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