Griffith University: Living lab launched in Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct

Up to 30 Griffith University researchers and PhD students will develop innovative programs and early interventions for young children, including those with additional needs, through co-locating with a new early learning centre and paediatric clinicians in the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct (GCHKP).

As the first private development in the Precinct’s Lumina commercial cluster, the $80 Proxima building will offer a novel collaborative space for paediatric researchers, clinicians, teachers, early childhood educators, and parents, in a model that puts all children at the centre.

Griffith University Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Carolyn Evans joined Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development Steven Miles, Minister for the Environment, Great Barrier Reef, Science and Youth Affairs Meaghan Scanlon, Gold Coast Hospital and Health Services Board Chair Ian Langdon, and representatives of developer Evans Long to turn the first sod on the project.

Founding tenant Sanctuary Early Learning Adventure is expected to create a unique environment that will include support for children with special needs.

“This is an Australian-first, an early learning centre with in-house access to allied paediatric health and research professionals, and I’m so pleased they have chosen to establish within Lumina at the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct,” Mr Miles said.

“Around 180 construction jobs will be created and when fully occupied, 900 health and teaching jobs will be based at Proxima, providing access to a huge range of services for families.”

Professor Evans said co-location provided the perfect basis on which to establish a Centre of Excellence in Early Childhood Education.

“The Centre brings together interdisciplinary teams across Griffith’s Allied Health disciplines and Early Childhood Education to embed a model of research-integrated inclusive childcare education”

“This will be a place in which every child can grow and learn together.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Chair of the GCHKP Strategic Advisory Group, Professor Mario Pinto, said the ‘living lab’ would provide a rare and valuable opportunity for researchers and build on the university’s existing strengths in education and autism research.

“This is all about collaboration, leveraging complementary skills, and building on strong but flexible foundations as a springboard to a whole new level of research translation,” Professor Pinto said.

“It is a perfect example of what our Research and Innovation Plan seeks to achieve with research impact, and what we are striving to create in the Precinct through integration.”

Associate Professor David Trembath, who will lead an allied health team of researchers from Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland (MHIQ), said the model would benefit both children with additional needs and the broader pre-school population.

“We will be looking at each child individually, rather than thinking of them through the lens of their diagnosis,“ Associate Professor Trembath said.

“It is all about identifying each child’s strengths, preferences, and interests and working with these. This is how all kids like to learn and doing so in an inclusive environment like this is good for all kids.

“The close relationship with the diagnostic clinics at Gold Coast Health will also lead to children’s needs being identified in a timely way, so we can intervene at the earliest opportunity when it is most beneficial.”

Sanctuary Early Learning Adventure Co-Founder, Damian Hall said the state-of-the-art facility would cater for up to 400 children with their own specialists embedded.

“Proxima will help relieve more of the pressure on parents also as it will eliminate most excess travel involved in transporting their children to and from medical appointments,” Mr Hall said.

“Technology will be a focus, but equally, researchers will learn practically through observing interactions between early childhood educators and children.”

“For some children, technology will open new windows into how they think and learn, for children with minimal language it may open a new door to communication with their peers, parents, and teachers,” Associate Professor Trembath said.

“We are working on offering training for Sanctuary’s staff and we will certainly be learning from them, and of course from the children themselves, so we can blend the art and science of early childhood development together.

MHIQ Director, Professor Paul Scuffham, played a key role in developing the concept.

“This exciting opportunity will allow for multi-year longitudinal studies as well as rolling evaluations in real-time that we will be able to quickly innovate into new programs,” Professor Scuffham said.

“This development is a real joint effort between Griffith University, Sanctuary, the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Services, Evans-Long and Economic Development Queensland that will be enduring.”

Researchers will also be drawn from the Griffith Institute for Educational Research (GIER) and the University’s specialised Autism Centre of Excellence.

The Proxima development is expected to be complete by the end of 2022. Lumina is the 9.5ha commercial legacy of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, of which Griffith University was an official partner.

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