Embracing technology

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By Professor John Siraj-Blatchfordresearch and development director

Continuing the debate on the uses of ICT in the Early Years with research on playful learning

Girl with carer playing on a laptop

Why is it that ICT in the Early Years has been getting such a bad press in recent months? It seems like a good deal of the concerns about young children’s passive viewing of television at home are being extended quite uncritically to the use of other screen-based applications of ICT, such as computers in pre-schools.

In 2008, Becta provided a review of the research evidence on the use of ICT in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) in England. The study was carried out independently by Professor Carol Aubrey and Sarah Dahl at the Early Childhood Research Unit at the University of Warwick. It found that ICT supported the development of positive dispositions to learning that contributed to, ‘personal, social and emotional development and across the EYFS in general’, as well as, ‘extending knowledge and understanding of the world in the broadest sense of communication, language and literacy, problem solving, reasoning and numeracy, creative development and recreational/playful behaviour’. It also supported children in the early development of valuable operational skills.

In the USA, a long series of studies associated with High Scope and Head Start programmes have looked at the use of ICT in children’s Early Years and these have shown significant benefits for young children (see Morgan and Siraj-Blatchford, Using ICT in the Early Years: Parents and Practitioners in Partnership, 2009). A report just published in New Zealand provides additional evidence of the value of applying ICT in early childhood. The report provides an overview of projects developed in 60 New Zealand Early Childhood Education Centres over a three year period. It shows that ICT has supported and enhanced children’s learning. It also provided support for the centres in developing partnerships and connecting with their communities. The report showed that ICT improved the quality of teaching and learning in the centres and it concluded that realising that potential lies less in which technologies are used and more in how they are used. 

It is really a lack of recognition of this final point that represents the crux of the problem when it comes to the negative attitudes that are often expressed about ICT in early childhood. Just like any other curriculum materials or tools, ICT can be misapplied in the Early Years. But that isn’t sufficient cause for their use to be discouraged, especially when most of the evidence points to the fact that practitioners overwhelmingly apply them effectively for positive ends.

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