Why early education needs a technology transformation


Caring for a child occurs naturally for most of us. Even the most uptight adults will melt when a baby is put in their arms. Evolutionarily, we just know how to nurture and care for children.

We also know that the earliest and best learning begins at home. But families of all types often find benefits in engaging with an early education center, family child care setting or a trained home visitor.

Over time, experts in early childhood education have added to their innate abilities with innovative research that reinforces their beliefs. For instance, the National Academy of Sciences reports that young children learn from their caregivers through respectful and caring routines that promote neuron connections and their social and emotional development.

It’s this body of knowledge that more than 800,000 early childhood educators (ECE) around the world have learned and know how to apply by earning the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. The CDA is based on a core set of competency standards that guide early childhood professionals toward becoming qualified educators of young children.

Yet we must encourage even these gifted and accomplished educators to better understand how technology can improve their practice with responsible innovation.

Some advocates are making the case that we should start engaging preschool-aged children with some of the basic skills for coding, just as we start at a young age with reading. We need more research about appropriate and equitable deliveries and teacher trainings on integrating developmentally appropriate technology literacy into young children’s daily learning environment.

While some focus on the unsettling parts of artificial intelligence (AI), we need to harness it to help early educators thrive. For instance, we can train AI to read and detect crucial data cues about child development through teachers’ observation notes so the teachers can provide a timely and needed intervention. We can also use AI to help with recruitment, matching and providing the right ratio of educators who can speak the home languages of the children served; this will support multilingual development in the classroom setting.

Advocates are also applying geo-mapping using location data to revolutionize the way early childhood educators can pursue professional development; it can generate a list of professional development resources for the teachers and translate data into actionable next steps.

Parts of early education embraced technology quicker than they could have imagined when the COVID pandemic hit. For instance, home visiting is a relationship-based prevention strategy. Home visiting professionals, typically early childhood educators (including those who hold CDA credentials) meet with families voluntarily in their homes to share a range of parenting supports and screenings.

Clearly this type of one-on-one, in-home learning was impossible when we had to social distance. Rapid Response Virtual Home Visiting sprung into action to help home visitors conduct developmental screening virtually and guide a caregiver in parent-child interaction on a virtual platform or by telephone. Preliminary research shows high rates of parent satisfaction.

Nonprofit innovations such as the Message from Me app also are inspiring. It’s a tool for children to communicate with their families about their daily activities and learning experiences through the use of digital pictures and recorded audio messages. More than 20,000 children have used the app, and it’s been shown to help them improve their collaboration, creativity and problem-solving skills.

There is no doubt that technology can bring revolution to enhance our lives. What we must keep in mind is that in recent decades early childhood education was always on the cutting edge. When TV came into popular use, Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street showed that the relatively new technology could be harnessed to help our littlest learners; there were many skeptics at the time.

We have a few modern-day Big Birds in the AI era, but our early childhood educators, their students and the field as a whole need more.

Sandy Baba is a senior adjunct professor at Pacific Oaks College, Graduate School of Human Development in San Jose.

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