It is heartening to see the 3 core development areas confirmed in the revised Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum. I believe it is self evident that we should focus on young children’s physical, social and language development. These underpin our preparedness for life.
Other areas of learning add skills and knowledge to our character but these are arguably less significant to our overall development as human beings. We are born with what we might term innate survival skills – the abilities required to ensure we stay alive, providing the basics for sustaining life from which we can start to build our character.
The first years of life are concerned not only with physical growth but also with the development of abilities and skills for success in terms of communication and socialisation, both vital for us to thrive.
Over and above these critical areas, we are birthed with natural curiosity and creativity. It is the skill of practitioners and teachers that coaches and encourages these talents in each individual. In particular, metacognition – skills for learning about learning eg investigating, assessing, critical thinking, are what might be classed currently as valuable for “school readiness” – not that children can read and write but that they have the propensity and skill set for learning – the acquisition of further skills and knowledge.
In this context, Information Communication Technology (ICT) is a line item within the early years curriculum. We are tasked with ensuring children are exposed to technology and familiarise themselves with its usage and application.
But is this necessary or vital for healthy child development?
As someone who worked in the IT sector for 25 years, my contention is that ICT as a user experience, is concerned with tools. We use technology, by definition, to make life easier for us – to do things we couldn’t easily do without it, such as taking a photo, recording sounds or even video conferencing.
I believe issues arise with assessment where specific technologies are deemed to be required to “tick off” the ICT thing – interactive white boards, desktop computers, laptops, ipads, digital cameras etc. Are these of themselves characteristic of outstanding practice?
How is the learning experience for our children affected by the presence or lack of these commodities?
How do they affect children’s development of language, social skills, healthy physical development, creativity and imagination?
Are these robust, intuitive and child appropriate interfaces – how many broken laptops, mice, keyboards etc are there in early years settings and how many children can use these relatively expensive resources, at any one time? Could funds be better used?
Do staff know how to use them, or indeed how to fix them when something goes wrong?
I am not against technology – I used to earn a living from it and I understand its myriad uses and applications but I do question its application and helpfulness to the fundamentals of children’s development in the early years.
There are some super programs and apps available as well as bee bots (other programmable control toys are available), talking tins, children’s cameras etc but these are all tools and the skills needed to use them and taught through them, are limited in scope. They address a subset of the human skill-set. They can also be a distraction – I know that if we turn a computer on there will be a crowd of children (usually boys) vying for the mouse and keyboard, to the exclusion of other activities. And if we don’t turn it on, they all know how to anyway!
Would we rather our children were playing with sand, water, sticks and their friends and imagination or the latest electronic games machine by themselves with no interactive dialogue?
With the international concerns over childhood obesity, exposure to internet pornography and the reduction in children’s ability to socialise, focus and concentrate on tasks, maybe it’s time for a return to basics? – or am I a heretic?