UC Irvine announced Tuesday a five-year, nearly $11 million grant from the Zurich-based Jacobs Foundation for the creation of a collaborative network to help tailor digital technologies for children.

The network, to be called Connecting the EdTech Research EcoSystem, will bring together global leaders in computer science, psychology, neuroscience, education and educational technology.

“Now more than ever, we need to marshal the brightest minds and best science to support children who are growing up in an increasingly digital and unequal age,” said UCI psychological science professor Candice Odgers, who will head CERES along with Gillian Hayes, UCI’s vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate Division.

“We are grateful for the Jacobs Foundation’s many investments in improving the lives of children and for the opportunity to direct this initiative here at UCI,” Odgers said.

Digital experiences had become a common part of how children learn, play and socialize well before the COVID-19 pandemic, then in March 2020, youngsters worldwide were moved almost overnight out of their classrooms and into online spaces to learn and socialize. Now, as school doors begin to reopen and children reunite with teachers and friends, most will also continue to learn and socialize online.

According to UCI, young people represent one in three users of the internet globally, yet online spaces and tools are often not designed to offer children the types of support and opportunities for learning that they need.

“CERES will address this issue to reduce growing inequalities in access,” according to a UCI statement. “The network will place children and evidence at the center of the digital equations so critical in predicting their success. Experts will push scientific boundaries to identify unique chances for intervention and for improving youngsters’ learning and future lives. The initiative will also lay a foundation for future researchers working across multiple disciplines in academia and industry.”

Hayes said the network “is a rare opportunity to make life-changing impact, contribute to cutting-edge scientific research and train the next generation of interdisciplinary scholars in this space.”

According to UCI, CERES will be strengthened through partnerships with Carnegie Mellon University; UC Berkeley; Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Research and Information in Education; the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences; the University of Cambridge; the University of Washington; and Canada’s Western University.

The Jacobs Foundation has committed more than $545 million to advancing learning and education around the globe over the next 10 years. CERES is one of three educational technology initiatives the foundation hopes will change the fortunes of children by leveraging new technologies and improving the digital world.

“Robust science needs to play a key part in how ed tech products are designed and deployed,” said Simon Sommer, co-CEO of the foundation established by entrepreneur Klaus J. Jacobs and his family in 1989. “The current momentum presents an enormous opportunity to influence the direction of the ed tech industry to be a force of positive change in education.”

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