Release type: Speech


Launch of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child


The Hon Jason Clare MP
Minister for Education

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand, the Turrbal and the Yugara people, and their Elders, past, present and emerging. 

Dame Quentin Bryce, former Governor General of Australia.

Professor Margaret Sheil, Vice-Chancellor of QUT.

Ms Judith Zielke PSM, CEO of the Australian Research Council.

Professor Susan Danby, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child.

Kids, researchers and educators.

It’s my great pleasure to formally open the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child.

Every generation grows up in a world that is different from the generation before them.

But when I think about the world that my two young boys are now beginning to explore, it’s hard to imagine a more different experience of childhood from the one I had.

And that’s because digital technology has changed everything so fast and so fundamentally.

When I was five a computer was a device that came in at least three big boxes and cost the same as a small car. Now it’s something you can strap to your wrist.

When I was five, social media was waiting your turn on the home landline telephone – there was only one and it was stuck to the wall. Now my five-year old video calls his grandparents from the couch using a sheet of aluminium and glass.

Almost anything he wants to know, or see or experience he can find at a moment’s notice.

That’s the world my boys have been born into. Their early development, their schooling and their social interactions will have a digital dimension that is only going to grow larger as they grow up.

It’s a fundamentally different experience of the world from that of my generation, even the great innovations of my generation.

My kids – have never been to a video store.

The idea that if you wanted to rent a movie, you had to get it from a store, and make sure it was rewound when you took it back is inconceivable, let alone that if someone else was watching it, you had to settle for something else.

Today’s kids are exposed from birth to the opportunities that digital technology offers. Everything a click away. But they also have to navigate the risks and challenges that the digital age presents.

That’s why the work of this Centre is so important. It is a global first: a research body dedicated to the study of our children’s experience of digital technology.

It’s like Seven Up! With an iPad.

The research undertaken here will help us understand the impact digital technology has on our kids, how it can extend their learning, build their skills and enrich their lives.

It will look at how technology effects their health and their wellbeing, their schooling and their peer interactions.

And help equip them with the tools they need to navigate some of the challenges of a digital childhood.

Here’s just one example. According to the Black Dog school kids get an hour less sleep today than they did 20 years ago – because of personal screens, and that hour less sleep may have an impact on mental health.

Over the next seven years, this Centre of Excellence will receive $34.9 million in research funding from the Australian Research Council and $32.2 million in cash and in-kind contributions from national and international partners.

It will bring together researchers from all over Australia and from a range of disciplines: education, health, computer science, engineering, psychology and media & communications. 116 researchers and 30 students. All working together, all sharing their expertise and their insight into understanding the possibilities - and some of the perils - of digital technology for our kids.

It will, I hope, become a trusted voice on technology and our kids.

It will do that through projects like the Australian Children of the Digital Age Longitudinal Study. This involves more than 3,000 families and will examine children’s digital engagement from birth to eight years of age.

And its partnership with the Australian Centre of the Moving Image, which will deliver a public seminar series about digital childhood. The first will focus on privacy – a key issue for kids and their use of technology.

When I was young the gift every kid wanted was a new bike.

At the same time, Steve Jobs was trying to sell the world on the idea of computers as a bicycle for the mind.

The kids of today can have both. And this Centre is going to help us harness those opportunities for our youngest Australians.

It is a welcome addition to Australia’s education and innovation excellence and I am very proud to formally open this Centre of Excellence today.