Monash trailblazer awarded $3.2 million grant for early childhood research

2 August 2018

Professor Marilyn Fleer, the winner of the Australian Laureate Fellowship 2018
Professor Marilyn Fleer, the winner of the Australian Laureate Fellowship 2018

Prestigious fellowship awarded

Monash Professor Marilyn Fleer has been awarded an Australian Laureate Fellowship from the Australian Research Council for her work investigating how young children use play and imagination to form concepts about science, technology and engineering.

It is only the second in the history of the awards to be awarded in the field of education, the first in early childhood. It is expected to put Australia at the forefront of early education research.

According to Professor Fleer the grant will allow a five-year large scale programmatic study to develop better understanding of how young children learn.

“A lot is known about how play creates positive conditions for children to develop. What we don’t know is how do imagination and play support young children to think abstractly about concepts they cannot see.

We also do not know how very young children engage in thorough experiments, imagine concepts in science, how they work with engineering principles or use design technologies in their learning.”

Evidence-based teaching

Professor Fleer says the results of her research can be used to develop an evidence-based model to support teachers and early childhood education.

“Knowing more about how imagination in play builds imagination in science, engineering and technology can usefully inform parents, grandparents, early childhood educators and playgroup leaders. It could change the course of learning.”

Supporting women researchers

Professor Fleer was also awarded the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Fellowship to support and mentor female researchers.

Professor Fleer said that receiving both awards felt like a dream, particularly as early childhood education has been historically under resourced.

“It will build the capacity for research in the area of early childhood and development. It is so important for the field. You can change the life chances of children when you invest in early childhood,” she said.

In announcing the award, Professor Sue Thomas, CEO of the Australian Research Council, described Marilyn as a world-class leader in research who demonstrated her “capacity to undertake ground-breaking, internationally-competitive research, as well as build Australia’s research capacity by promoting women in research and encouraging them to enter and establish careers in research in Australia."