Planting seeds on the front lawn for tomorrow's students

9 May 2013

The University of Sydney's iconic front lawns became a giant outdoor classroom for 700 eight- and nine-year-olds yesterday.

For most of these students, drawn from 13 primary schools across Sydney, mainly from the greater west and the south west, Year Three Discover University was their first hands-on experience of university life.

"The event is part of the 'Discover' phase of our programs," said Annette Cairnduff, Director of Social Inclusion at the University of Sydney. The initiative also includes activities at each school before and after their University visit.

"The students left with stories of mummies, marshmallows, beebots and bridge making - and possibly a bit of Hogwarts. More importantly they have now been to a university campus, met and talked with students, academics and researchers, and got a feel for what goes on at the University of Sydney," added Cairnduff.

Each child undertook four of 32 activities provided by the 13 faculties and schools at the University, as well as by the University Library, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotion, Sydney University Sport and Fitness and the Sydney University Museums and Gallery.

Ruqaya from Fairfield Public School learnt about some of the basics of engineering: "We got to build a bridge with lollies and we had to put blocks together and see how much they weighed." Her friend Mantoura learnt about an important issue for controlling the spread of illness: "I washed my hands and cleaned them and checked them with a special light to see if there were still germs."

Chloe from Revesby South Public School was given a set of paintings and asked to design an art exhibition, before moving onto a class about power in Australia: "We went to an art gallery and we learnt how to put pictures together and be art curators. Then we learnt about the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and voting."

Annette Cairnduff says the idea behind the program is the crucial role early exposure to tertiary education plays in the choices children make later on. "Research tells us that the majority of students who are currently at university began thinking about it in primary school," she says.

Last year more than 12,000 primary and high school students participated in the University's Compass program. More than 30,000 students have taken part in the program since it began in 2009. "We are really starting to see the impact of our work in schools as the kids move up through into high school and senior school," Cairnduff said.

"We couldn't do this work without the terrific and dedicated engagement of staff and students from faculties and central areas of the University," she added.