Early Learners and Digital Learning: Topic 3 of 3: Equity of Access and Early Learners

Technology can have a positive impact on early learners’ social and cognitive development including skills such as problem solving, reading, and speaking. However, when used inappropriately, technology can have adverse effects on early learners and their social and cognitive development. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that all media should be avoided for children under the age of two. Despite this, the integration of technology into school curriculum and society is increasing and being able to aptly utilize technology is a necessity. As technology’s presence in society continues to grow, it is vital that all members of society are equipped with technological skills to thrive in our global economy. Although school’s are beginning to equip students with these skills, some have far more advantages to engaging with technology compared to others. Engaging with technology at a young age is crucial to honing the necessary skills to thrive in our changing global economy, but inappropriate use or no opportunities to engage with technology can have detrimental ramifications for early learners’ digital literacy skills and cognitive and social development. The final brief in the Early Learners and Digital Learning series, Equity of Access and Early Learners, examines equity of access to technology for early learners by exploring this inequality, the digital divide. Race, family income, and geographical location have all been found to be contributing factors to the differences in access to technology for early learners. Certain groups of early learners, racial minorities and those from low-income families, have been shown to be especially vulnerable to the digital divide’s impact at home and school.

At home, the most vulnerable groups of early learners are reported as having less technology and the technology they do have is outdated. In addition to having differing access to technology at home, these groups are reported as utilizing technology for educational purposes less often than their peers, too. This difference in access to technology at home in turn impacts early learners’ ability to utilize technology for academic purposes at school, if the school even provides opportunities to do so. Instead, the digital divide often further manifests itself at school in less accessible computers at one central technology lab. Additionally, there is a disparity in proficient Internet service and a lack of teacher proficiency in technology at schools. Even with teacher proficiency, there are inequalities in how appropriately  instructors integrate technology into their classroom.

Through our examination of equity of access to technology for early learners, we provide possible recommendations on how parents and educators can bridge the digital divide for the most vulnerable groups of early learners. These recommendation include the identification of “digital learning hubs” for parents and learning communities for teachers to exchange knowledge and skills in using technology in the classroom and integrating its use in the curriculum.

Read the informational brief here and watch the presentation here. The presentation slides can be found here

Monique C. Morgan, Emily Rukobo, Julie Zarmer Regional Innovations in Learning Team

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