The use of ICT in early childhood education is a controversial topic. There are many arguments for using ICT in early childhood settings, but there are also many arguments against its use. I chose to research this topic this week as I was interested in Isabella King’s post on ‘How Young is Too Young to Use Technology?’. This is a question that I have thought about many times. How often do you walk down the street and see a parent pushing a toddler in a pram and the toddler is playing with the parent’s smartphone? This is a child that can barely speak and cannot yet read or write, yet is able to navigate a complex ICT tool with increasing efficiency. I find myself often thinking, “take the phone away, and give the child a ball, just let the child be a child and play!” But maybe this is backwards thinking, as we are surrounded by constantly evolving ICTs in our everyday life and young children are therefore gaining more and more access to ICTs. As an early childhood educator it is important that I have a good understanding of the issues surrounding ICT use in early childhood settings, so I can make an informed decision about if and how I will use ICT in my classroom.
Last year I completed my first professional experience placement in an early childhood setting. This particular setting had a very large outdoor area that backed onto bushland. Subsequently, the setting placed strong emphasis on outdoor play and physical activity and learning through nature. The children spent most of the day playing outside. The educators regularly took the children on ‘nature walks’ through the bushland. The children often incorporated natural resources and materials into their play and their artworks. I could immediately see the benefits of this natural and play-based learning for the children.
However, as I progressed through my placement I began to wonder about other aspects of the children’s learning, such as the role of ICT. Within the setting the children had limited access to ICTs; there were no computers or tablets or even a TV available to the children. Sometimes the children would ask an educator to print off a photo or picture on the staff computer. Given the growth and prevalence of ICTs in children’s everyday lives outside the early childhood setting, I was very surprised by the lack of ICTs within the setting, as I thought it was important that some ICTs be incorporated into the children’s learning.
Towards the end of my placement I began to question some of the educators about the use of ICT in early childhood education. The educators enthusiastically extolled the benefits of the children learning in the outdoor environment, while ICT was presented as a negative influence on the children, one that had to be explicitly countered by involving them in more outdoor activities. I was not surprised by the response I received from the educators at the setting. After all, how often do we hear in the media that ‘young children watch too much TV’, or ‘young children spend too much time on social media’ and ‘young children should spend more time playing outdoors’? As I critiqued the use of ICT in early childhood education, I arrived at two fundamental questions:
What are the arguments for using ICT in early childhood education?
What are the arguments against using ICT in early childhood education?
Morgan and Siraj-Blatchford (2010) in collaboration with parents and educators in early childhood settings, have extensively researched the benefits of using ICT in early childhood education, as well as some of the arguments against using ICT in early childhood education. I have summarised their research in following table:
Arguments For ICT Use in Early Childhood Education
Arguments Against ICT Use in Early Childhood Education
|· Studies have shown that ICT, when used responsibly, can actually support children’s learning by offering children opportunities for more active learning of a wide range of skills, knowledge and competencies.
· Studies have shown benefits in the areas of fine motor skills, language and communication, early literacy, mathematical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, self-esteem and self-confidence, cooperation, motivation, and positive attitudes towards learning.
|· A case against ICT in early childhood has been made in terms of the perceived risks to children’s physical, cognitive, emotional and social development.
· Critics refer to possible repetitive strain injuries, a lack of exercise and risk of obesity, decreased creativity, impaired language and literacy, as well as poor concentration, social isolation, decreased motivation, and depression.
I believe our choice as early childhood educators is not whether we are to include or exclude ICT in early childhood education. It makes no sense to pretend ICT doesn’t influence children; children will learn all about ICT without influence. Rather, the choice we have is whether we are to provide a critical ICT education or not. We can either leave children to learn about ICTs uncritically from other sources, or we can accept the challenges associated with ICT use in early childhood education and make the most of the opportunities that it offers. Personally, on my next professional experience placement in an early childhood setting, I will be making a concerted effort to incorporate some use of ICTs in the children’s learning.
The following videos contain some interesting perspectives on using ICT in early childhood education:
Morgan, A., & Siraj-Blatchford, J. (2010). Using ICT in the early years: Parents and educators in partnership. Albert Park: Teaching Solutions.