In 2004, a report written for the Ministry of Education in New Zealand by Bolstad (2004) highlighted three main issues in relation to using ICT in ECE. These include:
- Why use ICT with young children?
- How can ICT enrich the ECE learning environment?
- Knowing when and how to use ICT with children.
Why use ICT with young children?
There were a number of areas of concern when it comes to using computers for children’s education.
Specific areas of concern often raised in relation to children’s computer use are:
a. Harmful physical effects of children’s prolonged computer use:
It is important that children become responsible for ensuring they have a chair of the right height. Learning how to manage their own space and select the right tools when sitting down at a computer.
b. Negative impacts on children’s social development:
The environment where children learn plays a key role in being able to either encourage isolation or integration of ICT. As practitioners, in order to develop creative and rewarding environments it is important to remember that this entirely rests on your own ability to integrate computer-related activities into, and across the curriculum (Bolstad, 2004).
c. Educational concerns that computer use can interfere with aspects of children’s cognitive development:
Research has shown that ICT can encourage purposeful and exploratory play. It encourages discussion, creativity, problem-solving, risk taking and flexible thinking.
d. Concerns about children’s exposure to unsuitable content, for example, containing material of a sexual or violent nature etc:
While there are ethical issues with trying to measure whether something might have a negative effect on children, “it is the practitioners’ responsibility to critically appraise the computer games used by children in their care to identify whether these might include or promote violence, as well as whether they promote undesirable gender or cultural stereotypes” (Bolstad, 2004, p. 23).
e. And concerns that computer use may displace other important learning and play activities:
While computers can play a role in young children’s early education experiences alongside other kinds of activities, it is important that ICT should not be seen as a way of superseding or displacing these kinds of experiences (Bolstad, 2004).
How can ICT enrich the ECE learning environment?
ICT holds many potential benefits for young children. According to Bolstad (2004, p.25) ICT can:
- Support children’s cognitive and emotional development, and the development of social and co-operative skills;
- Assist in the emergence of early literacy and mathematical thinking;
- “Level the playing field” for children with special learning needs;
- Enhance and strengthen relationships between children and adults, or give adults new ways to gain insight into children’s thinking or their interests, thereby providing opportunities to better support and scaffold children’s learning;
- And facilitate the emergence of “new literacies” or “multiliteracies” in children (Hill & Broadhurst, 2001; Pastor & Kerns, 1997).
The use of ICT in the early years has the potential to enhance educational opportunities for young children. It can be applied in a developmentally appropriate manner to encourage purposeful and exploratory play. It can encourage discussion, creativity, problem solving, risk taking and flexible thinking, and this can all be achieved in a play-centred and responsive environment. However, all of this does demand that practitioners are well trained and skilled in the appropriate uses of ICT with young children (Siraj-Blatchford & Whitebread, 2003, p.6 as cited in Bolstad, 2004).
What is developmentally appropriate use of ICT with young children?
In a recent study conducted in the United Kingdom (DATEC, Siraj-Blatchford, 2003 as cited in Bolstad, 2004), eight principles of ICT use in early childhood education were found to be appropriate. These included:
- Ensure educational purpose;
- Encourage collaboration;
- Integrate with other aspects of the curriculum;
- The child should be in control;
- Choose applications that are transparent and intuitive;
- Avoid applications that contains violence or stereotyping;
- Be aware of health and safety issues;
- Encourage the educational involvement of parents.
(Bolstad, 2004, p. 28)
Ensuring Educational Purpose
ICT brings with it many educational values. However, it is important that practitioners do ensure that there is potential in enhancing children’s education. As Bolstad (2004) points out that the use of ICT should be educationally effective and that “children need a variety of applications which encourage a range of development, including creativity, self-expression and language” (p.2). Practitioners should thoroughly discuss the educational benefits and constraints of the particular application.
This particular attribute of ICT is important as it is parallel to real-life settings. While children can play with ICTs individually, it is said that the best applications encourage collaboration. According to Butterworth (1992, as cited in Bolstad, 2004), “activities requiring joint attention and which involve children learning to share provide a better cognitive challenge for young children” (p.2). In addition, it also helps children to learn to deal with conflicts and also aid them in finding potential solutions together.
Integrating with other aspects of the Curriculum
It is imperative that ICT applications are integrated within the context of other aspects of their curriculum as children need to see ICT in a meaningful context and for real purposes. When setting up learning environments, practitioners should provide the right conditions for this to occur. In other words, an isolated computer suite is not ideal for encouraging the integration of ICT. Bolstad (2004) highlights that by integrating ICT it helps the children see ICT as tools and that these tools are designed for particular purposes when required.
Ensuring that the Child is in Control
To ensure that children obtain the maximum benefits from ICT they must be in control of the device. This approach “promotes directive teaching and is contrary to popular conceptions of good educational practice” (Bolstad, 2004, p. 4).
Choosing Applications that are Transparent
When choosing applications practitioners should determine whether its functions are clearly defined and intuitive. This means that the application should be able to complete each clearly defined task in a single operation. For example, the ‘drag and drop’ facility on a computer (Bolstad, 2004).
Avoiding applications containing violence or stereotyping
It is important to be alert for programs that are inappropriate as a result of particular features or functions that might promote violence or stereotyping.
Being aware of health and safety issues
Understanding the potential risks involved in the use of ICT is important. However, with proper supervision children can use ICTs with minimal concerns by the practitioners. It is best to avoid extended use of any desktop computers by limiting the time between 10 – 20 minutes for three year olds and extending the time to 40 minutes for children up to 8 years old.
Parental involvement at home can play a key role in the educational use of ICT. It is important that parents and practitioners communicate in relation to learning activities of the children and a “more articulated set of aims between the home and early years setting” is conducted to help lead to more productive outcomes (Bolstad, 2004, p. 7)
Knowing when and how to use ICT
There are many potential advantages that ICT use can bring to ECE. For practitioners, the value of ICT will strongly depend on their choices of ICT and knowing when and how to use them. This is dependent on their understanding of how ICT can support children’s learning, development, participation and play (Bolstad, 2004).