Impact: Evidence-based frameworks for education and social policy

The importance of fathers to development

When fathers read regularly to their young children, it impacts their language, literacy and cognitive skills more than mothers bookreading, even several years later.

This breakthrough finding in the emerging field of father research was made by UOW’s Dr Elisabeth Duursma, a pioneer in examining the influence of paternal bookreading.

In particular,  Dr Duursma examined the impact fathers of low-socioeconomic families can have on their child’s language and literacy skills when they frequently read to them.

Dr Duursma’s study also showed that it is not just the reading of the book that makes paternal contributions to child development so valuable, but the quality of engagement between father and child that bookreading brings.

Her findings could have a significant impact on the way educators are trained to include fathers in early education settings and inspire more men to enter early childhood professions.

By contributing more evidence about the role of fathers in childhood development, Dr Duursma also hopes in the future to influence workplace flexibility arrangements that provide greater opportunity for fathers, and mothers, to combine work and family responsibilities.

Equity for first in family university students

Five groups within Australia are currently recognised as disadvantaged when it comes to educational opportunities and are targeted to receive institutional support to achieve equity. There is one cohort not included in this target, yet is reported as having higher rates of attrition and face a higher degree of academic challenge: students who are first in their family to attend university.

In Australia, 51 per cent of the student population is estimated to be first in their immediate family to attend university and a significant proportion of these consider departure once enrolled.

Over the past decade, Dr Sarah O’Shea has undertaken research with this student cohort and has found that the term ‘first-in-family’ should be regarded as a ‘supra equity category’ cutting across other equity categorisations.

First-in-family as an umbrella or supra category not only provides a more consolidated basis for equity funding, enabling greater impact but also moves beyond deficit perspectives of students. Dr O’Shea’s research has most recently been funded by the Office of Learning and Teaching and involves collaborations with University of Newcastle and Open Universities Australia.

This research seeks to effect policy and funding change by working closely with government and educational institutions to embed recognition of this cohort into policy and materials. A forum bringing together researchers, policymakers and equity organisations led to the development of the first set of Draft National Principles for Engaging with First in Family Students and their Families.

    The importance of fathers to development
    Dr Elisabeth Duursma
    Equity for first in family university students
    Dr Sarah O'Shea
    Dr Janine Delahunty
    A/Professor Josephine May
    Dr Cathy Stone