A Digitized Future for Early Years Education?

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A Digitized Future for Early Years Education?

The Role of Technology in Early Years Practices in Enhancing the Social Development of Young, ‘Generation Z’ Children

About this article: My name is Olivia Tucker and I am an Undergraduate Education Studies Student at Bath Spa University and have recently developed an interest in the dynamics of technology in Early Years pedagogy. This article demonstrates my research in the subject and argues for a change in Early Years education.

Within our contemporary Western society there has been a persistent observation that due to the vast exposure to advanced technologies at early ages, experiences with technology can promote several learning opportunities. However, there is a lack of an educational component in Early Years practices in order to make effective use of them. In order for these opportunities to thrive, a greater presence of technology is needed. According to the U.S. Department of Education, this ‘currently isn’t happening in enough places’.

Early Years learning is considered to be vital for children’s development – it is considered to be the most influential stage of life in terms of development, with prime ages being between 2 and 5. Although this stance has been thoroughly researched and adapted through traditional methods, the implementation of computer technology in enhancing the potential development in young, digital-savvy children has scarcely been enacted in Early Years practices.

In this article I will be arguing for an increase in technology involved in Early Years education through exploring the developmental benefits of computers on young children in a digital age.

Out with the old, in with the new: The era of digital natives

We live in a modern, technologically advanced world where the next generation of children – labelled ‘Generation Z’ – will approach development and learning completely differently to preceding generations due to this early, immediate relationship with the digital world. They are coined by Marc Prensky as ‘digital natives’. Therefore, the social culture of young children has changed significantly in the last decade through extensive exposure to technology in their out-of-school contexts. This social relationship consequently impacts the ways in which they develop. With the digital world becoming more and more available to them, modern-day young children are thinking differently, learning faster, and processing information quicker through the opportunities that technology provides. As a result, today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach, and traditional methods of learning are much less affective. Therefore educational practitioners are encouraged to discover new ways of incorporating technology into their previously established pedagogical approaches to Early Years education.

The future of digital natives: ‘a new work order’?

Introducing technology in Early Years education encourages the development of vital skills to prepare for our technologically-advanced future – including the inevitable digitized workplace where every occupation will be combined with or dominated by technology. The child’s development of social media literacies will promote their engagement in online civic and democratic participation in later life e.g. online voting/polls, promoting significant movements through social media, and creating petitions discussed by governing boards.

The importance of using technology in child development

Early childhood educators seek to find and adapt appropriate pedagogy to enhance child development. However, many often neglect to acknowledge what technology could offer early years development, considering it the ‘antithesis of good practice’. This failure of recognition heavily restricts development, as emerging research addresses the range of potential ‘strongly positive’ development opportunities computers offer in Early Years practices. These include social, intellectual, and cognitive development through processes such as symbolic representation – a concept encouraged by Piaget – through digital resources e.g. online pictures, videos and interactive games. Additionally, it has been found that young children with computer-use in their learning have achieved greater gains in the development of intelligence, problem solving, and language skills compared to those without.

Social development, communication and the role of play in technology

The Rose Review highlights the importance in learning social and communication skills in Early Years education in order to develop children into ‘responsible citizens making positive contributions to society’. Of course, technology is now used as an effective means of engaging young people in this society through internet participation in new forms of political and civic cultures.

Therefore, social development in early childhood has changed and expanded – technology now has a huge influence on modern socialisation, with children developing their digital literacies through a range of social media resources. This development of digital communication skills is therefore central to this social development, with computers in early childhood programmes providing plentiful ‘opportunities for the development of social skills’. An integral part of early child pedagogy is the use of play to promote social development, and the exposure to technology in early years offers ‘significantly different ways of playing’, including engaging and developmentally appropriate computer games software. Enjoyment and interaction through educational computer games promotes plentiful social development opportunities for the child, through activities such as working/competing with others and problem solving.

Participatory education: interactive learning through technology

‘Digital natives crave interactivity’ – the modern child’s exposure to technology has promoted their development through interactive learning. Recent research has found that interactive technology such as tablet computers and smart boards in Early Years environments are found to increase children’s engagement and motivation in class, which contrasts arguments against technology’s negative impact on attention spans. This use of technology in participatory education discourages traditional, lecture-style method of teaching, which is known to negatively impact child-engagement. The use of stylus-interfaced tablets in a similar approach to traditional methods helps to extend the child’s literacy and drawing skills, and therefore their ability to communicate thoughts and feelings leading to further social development.

A new role for practitioners?

Due to their contrasting upbringing with little experience with technology, some Early Years practitioners – described by Prensky as ‘digital immigrants’ – are reluctant to introduce technology as a resource in young children’s learning. However, this needs to be addressed and amended. It is vital for future Early Years practices to incorporate both technological and traditional methods in order for the child’s learning to be appropriately relevant to the ‘social and technological conditions’ within which they are developing. The implementation of computer technology acts as an adaptation of traditional pedagogical materials to expand learning, rather than a goal unto itself. It is an alternate, digital methodology changing how, rather than what, children can learn using key technological skills.

The conclusion of my argument is thus: There needs to be an effective expansion in the inclusion of computer technology in Early Years education in order to enhance the development of young children in a digital world. Practitioners need to address the potential technology holds for pedagogy in Early Years education, and understand that a combination of resources, ‘computer and human’, need to be part of everyday practices in developmental learning.