To have or to have not computers in the classroom?

The use of information communication technology in nursery schools

The use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in the nursery classroom is growing rapidly as both governments and local education authorities continue to promote its integration. Whilst a greater emphasis is now being placed on ICT, elevating it to be of equal importance to literacy and numeracy, there is a growing body of empirical evidence which suggests that early introduction to ICT can have a detrimental effect on a child’s early education. If our children are in fact the most sedentary generation ever (according to the medical authorities), and already spend more time watching television than they do in school, do we really need to add computers and other screen-based devices to the classroom environment?

Many practitioners’ beliefs in the benefits of computers rest mainly on the assumption that computer skills and familiarity with technology will be valuable for future schooling and employment (Plowman, Stephen. 2005). Head Teacher Glen Calcutt contends that “the sooner children get exposed to ICT the better as it not only familiarises them with computers and other technologies, but also helps to spot a natural aptitude or interest in working with ICT.” This contention implies that if children do not “get used” to screen technology early on, they will in some way be intimidated by it, or be less competent at using it later (Sigman. 2008). Proponents of these arguments often seem to have a vested interest in the introduction of ICT and are unable to support their claims with any empirical evidence.

As play is the dominant medium for learning in pre-school education, using computers and other ICT devices needs to be a highly stimulating experience. Dr Bruce Perry, an internationally recognized authority on brain development, states that “children need real-time social interactions” and that “the technologies that benefit young children the greatest are those that are interactive and allow the child to develop their curiosity, problem solving and independent thinking skills”. It therefore seems apparent that although pre-school ICT exposure can be beneficial, we need to be more creative in our use of it. Ellen Wartella, a leading scholar in media and children’s development says the key to whether these technologies exert a positive or negative influence is the content they carry. We must therefore constantly evaluate the types of media available to young children. Lisa Guernsey, a reporter with the New York Times, recommends using what she calls the “Three Cs” approach to evaluating media, first looking at content, then looking at context, and finally, looking at the needs of the individual child:

Content: what is the basic premise of show? How is it designed? Does it have repetition? Are new words defined by pointing or labeling?

Context: who is interacting with the child? How do parents talk about what’s on the screen? Is the child learning through a game, then applying that in another activity? Is the child telling stories about what they have experienced?

Child: how much stimulation can this child take? Of what are they afraid? What types of media trigger the more curious questions, playful re-enactments, engagement and joy (Preschool Matters. 2008)

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has also raised concerns about the amount of screen time children are subjected to. The organization recommends that screen time for children be limited to one to two hours per day and that children under 2 should not be exposed to any screen time (Preschool Matters. 2006). Pre-school children currently spend three times longer in front of a television or computer, than they spend reading. In fact, television viewing among children under three is found to have ‘deleterious effects’ on mathematics ability, reading recognition and comprehension in later childhood (Sigman. 2008). Common sense suggests we closely consider these potential hazards before advocating the further use of ICT in the nursery classroom.

There seems to be a direct conflict between the advocates of ICT in early years’ education and the warnings arising from studies in paediatric medicine and biology (Sigman. 2008). Experts in child development have found that three things optimise brain development: face-to-face interaction with parents or carers; learning to interact with or manipulate the physical world; and creative problem-solving play. Electronic screens do not provide any of this (Barkham. 2009). Whilst there may be a place for computers within pre-school settings, there is a strong need for greater research as its promotion and increased implementation seems to go against the current research and studies being carried-out. At the very least, these screen-based activities prevent children spending time on other, more brain-building activities which will enhance both their cognitive and social development.

Further Reading
Cantor, P. (2001). Computers and the Very Young
Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood
Futurelab. Tots, toddlers and technology: can ICT help the under-5s?
Interplay. Play, learning and ICT in pre-school education
Lynch, S and Warner, L (2004). Computer Use in Preschools: Directors’ Reports of the State of the Practice
Moore, K and Perry, B (2009). Using Technology in the early Childhood Classroom
Plowman, L and Stephen, C (2003). A ‘benign addition’? Research on ICT and pre-school children. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. Stirling 2003.
Plowman, L and Stephen, C. (2005). Children, play, and computers in pre-school education. British journal of Education Technology. Oxford 2005.
Preschool Matters. A Publication of the National Institute for Early Education Research. July/August 2008. Are New Media a Boon to Young Children’s Education? Volume 6, No. 2.
Preschool Matters. A Publication of the National Institute for Early Education Research. May/June 2006. Does Exposure to Digital Technology Really Harm Preschoolers? Volume 4, No. 4.
Robinson, L. (2000). Computers for Young Children: Gold or “Fool’s Gold?”
Sigman, A. (2008) Does not Compute: Screen Technology in Early Years Education. WordPress. February 2008.
Silverman, E. (1996) Using Computers in Pre-Schools to Teach Pre-Literacy Skills
Topics in Early Childhood Education – Computers in the Preschool Classroom