Technology in Early Childhood Education
WHEN TECHNOLOGY IS USED APPROPRIATELY, IT CAN BE INTRINSICALLY MOTIVATING FOR YOUNG CHILDREN, AND CAN CONTRIBUTE TO THEIR COGNITIVE AS WELL AS SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
Technology in early childhood education is an emerging topic of discussion. Parents and educators are more concerned about the potential harm that technology can cause to young children than its benefits. One of the prime concerns is that using technology in early childhood education is a waste of time and money. Parents and educators also argue that use of technology can hinder essential learning experiences of childhood . On the other hand, a few educators suggest that children should not be deprived of the advantages that technology can offer to their learning experiences. Some of them are concerned that technology is not being harnessed properly for the benefit of preschoolers.
Since technology is available in most houses and schools today, children have access to it from an early age. Thus, a more appropriate question would be: how can technology be used in meaningful ways for young children? Or, more precisely, how can educators use technology to enhance children’s learning and development, while avoiding potential problems such as indulging in counterproductive entertainment?
A study performed by the National Research Council, Canada, suggests that several features of the new technology are in accordance with the principles of the new science of learning. The controversy regarding the integration of technology in early childhood education, therefore, revolves more around the specific needs of young children, questioning if technology can support those needs or hinder the essential developmental experiences.
WHAT DOES RESEARCH SAY ABOUT TECHNOLOGY AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT?
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), when technology is used appropriately, it can be intrinsically motivating for young children, and can contribute to their cognitive as well as social development. An appropriate and effective use of technology in early learning provides children the right foundation in digital fluency, which teaches them better uses of technology than mindless, passive entertainment.
The early years of childhood are important for the physical, social, emotional, linguistic and cognitive development of the learner. Appropriate stimuli, such as familial and peer interaction, and engaging hands-on activities, when combined with technological intervention, can enhance the overall development of young learners. Let us see how technology can be used to cater to the enhancement of the various developmental domains of a learner.
Social and Emotional Development: Technology cannot, and should not replace, but it can augment human interaction or relationships. It should not replace activities such as reading stories in groups or sharing conversations with each other. However, if used properly, technology can serve as a catalyst for social interaction and conversations related to children’s work. A classroom set-up is known to lead to the development of communication and collaboration skills. A technology-enabled classroom can also be designed to produce these skills through the use of strategies that integrate socialisation with technology. For instance, placing two seats in front of a computer/tablet or locating these devices at a central spot, where two or more children can use them together, enables learners to collaborate and communicate with each other while accessing the advantages of technology in their learning process. Such strategies encourage children to work together using technology and also facilitates sharing of thoughts and ideas with one another.
Language Development: The variety of rich experiences that promote early literacy is critical in the development of both oral and written language skills among young learners. Technology can play a key enhancing role in this domain of development as well. Language and literacy development are major strengths of technology. Critics express concerns that use of technology in early childhood will hamper language development and will lead to social isolation. However, research shows that, the use of technology helps children in articulation. Listening is the first step to learn a language. Stories, cartoons or interactive games available on the Internet give children ample opportunities to listen to a language and learn how to articulate it in appropriate situations. When this learning is supported by interactions with family, peers or educators, children tend to articulate what they do or see, or express their thoughts in a better way. Televisions, computers or any other touchscreen devices support language development if they are used alongside face-to-face interactions with people.
Physical Well-being and Motor Development: Fine and gross motor skills develop at varying rates during early childhood stages. Learning to write can be tedious and difficult as children struggle to form letters at their early stages of development. Though working on a word processor or using keyboards, can help, to a certain extent, in the development of fine and gross motor skills required for letter formation, this is one aspect of development that cannot gain much from a technology-enabled learning environment. Hence, children are to be engaged in certain other activities for the development of their fine and gross motor skills. Too much use of technology in the early years may lead to the underdevelopment of fine and gross motor skills, and increase the chances of other health hazards such as poor eyesight. So, the screen time should be limited.
Cognition and General Knowledge: Technology offers unique intellectual experiences and opportunities for young children. It allows representations and actions that are not possible in the physical world. For example, video games and movies representing the ancient or prehistoric world help children visualise objects or living things which are not found anymore. When we compared the development of children in a classroom that does not use technology with that of children who used technology with supporting activities, it was observed that the latter had significantly greater gains in verbal and nonverbal skills, and problem solving, abstraction and conceptual skills.
TECHNOLOGY IN CURRICULUM
The use of technology in curriculum should be based on the needs of the learners, the focus of the curriculum and also on the judicious evaluation of whether technology will add to children’s educational opportunities and experiences. Digital tools, like all other classroom materials, must support learning and should not be used as an isolated teaching-learning resource.
Preschool or early age children’s activities and experiences with computers, tablets and smartphones evolve over time as they grow and develop. Very young children often use technology with help from an adult or an older child. As they mature, children start using technology more independently. Accordingly, the teacher’s role also moves from guidance towards monitoring and active facilitation. Young children learn through exploration and discovery. If technology is used with children in kindergarten, preschool or child-care settings, tools such as touchscreens, tablets and iPads should be one of the many choices that they can explore. For this age, the value of technology is in its open-ended use, and not just in creating a product.
To conclude, a facilitator’s role is to create an environment in which children first become aware and inquisitive , and then act to support their exploration and inquiry in many different ways. Technology-based learning devices for this age group should be limited in number, and should be appropriate to the level of children’s skill set and the intended use of such devices in the learning and development process.