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Dinosaurs to robots: where will ICT take you?

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is no longer a subject in the National Curriculum for schools in England. The new subject that takes its place is ‘Computing’, and this represents a fundamental shift of thinking from teaching children how to apply and become consumers of ICT, towards them becoming ICT participants and producers.

The old ICT curriculum could never keep up with the subject, and often with its students. It’s hoped that the new approach will be more appropriate to future social and economic needs. It’s also hoped it may contribute positively towards encouraging more girls into the subject. All of this has important implications for childcare and early years pre-school as well. 

ICT in early childhood has two purposes; the first is concerned with technology education and the second educational technology.

ICT in Technology Education

People often express frustration at the pace of technological change.

It’s easy to feel a loss of control, that in its development important human values and priorities are being ignored.

It’s for this reason especially that we should be encouraging the widest possible involvement of ICT.

In 2014 girls accounted for only 18 per cent of all students in Computer studies/IT related HE courses.  ICT has been seen as an engineering concern, but the new emphasis on programming it will mean the subject is presented a lot more realistically.

One of the core concepts to be introduced is ‘computational thinking’, and this isn’t a new idea for UK childcare as programmable toys were included from the very beginning in the EYFS.

‘Computational thinking’ requires thought; and especially the need to break down a problem into stages to solve it.

In addition to programmable toys such as Bee-BotTM, On PCs, laptops, tablets and smart phones there are now screen ‘turtles’ to control, and programming apps such as Daisy the DinosaurTM and Cargo BotTM and ScratchJrTM

This demand for mental abstraction isn’t unique to ICT, it provides the same cognitive challenge as breaking down a story or narrative on a story board to create your own book.

Our StoryTM is a really excellent ios and android app that supports just that and provides an example of ‘education technology’.

The introduction of computational thinking into the ICT curriculum has been developed to support active participation in ICT. However, research suggests that ICT can also contribute significantly towards supporting children in their wider educational achievements. Achievements that influence their future socially and economically. That’s where ICT as educational technology really comes in to its own.

ICT in Educational Technology

Educational technology includes all those tools applied in support of teaching and learning, and increasingly they’re being used in most early years settings.

Bowman et al.'s (2001) highly influential US National Research Council research review, Eager to Learn, strongly endorsed the use of computers in early childhood fourteen years ago.

Today we have programmable toys, laptops, digital recorders and cameras, tablets and smart phones.

Studies have shown that ICT, when used responsibly, can provide significant tools to support:

  • self-regulation
  • social interaction
  • sustained shared thinking
  • symbol manipulation in early childhood

 ICT has also been found to provide significant support to educators in terms of their pedagogic knowledge.

  • The Effective Provision for Pre-school Education (EPPE) project has also highlighted the importance of the home learning environment
  • Research from the USA associated with Head Start has shown that educational applications of ICT in the home can be extremely influential
  • Research in the UK has also shown that childcare practitioners can support parents in developing the ICT home learning environment, and that this can lead to measurable gains in child outcomes between the age of 3 and 5.

With so many apps, programmes and hardware to draw upon it is difficult to keep up with what is considered best practice, but one notable app to mention is Me BooksTM . This app enables children to add their own audio narration and/or sound effects to personalise or adapt a story.

Multi-lingual childcare settings can also recruit the help of an adult competent in a child’s first language to translate popular and topical stories to provide mother tongue support.

For further advice two up to date publications worth looking at are:

See also: Common Sense Media and TEEM Education 

About the author

Dr John Siraj-Blatchford is an honorary Professor at the University of Plymouth. He also works as an independent educational researcher and consultant, and is the Research and Development Director of the Land of Me, an interactive early learning experience which won a BAFTA nomination. He was previously employed at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education and served as an Associate Director of the ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme. 

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