For many years, Early Childhood Education was regarded simply as ‘a phase’, a filler when young children get ready for the next-step of elementary schools. However, during recent years, people have started to notice a change–day care and kindergarten fees soaring sky-high; 6 year olds owning mobile devices; and parents trying to enrol their children in ‘good’ kindergartens years early–this ‘just a phase’ perception is gradually self-debunking.
The changes that have occurred within the realm of Early Childhood Education (ECE) in recent decades are hard to ignore, and they have certainly sparked conversation among sociologists, educational experts and last but maybe most importantly, parents. 'How do we raise a well-adjusted and happy child in today’s world from the outset?' 'Why does raising a child costs so much?' 'Are these changes merely new wine in an old bottle?'
With these questions in mind, we talk to Daniel Merker, who currently teaches Grade 1 at Shanghai American School, Pudong campus.
What is your opinion on young children being introduced to a digital world?
Nothing can or should replace human interaction, especially when it comes to children. The digital world has much to offer children. Technology is making the world a much smaller place allowing our kids to transport themselves to anywhere ina the world, be creators of authentic content and interact with the world in new ways. Also, technology doesn’t necessarily mean interacting with only a screen. Young children need tactile stimulation, especially when it comes to learning. Companies like Osmo and Wonder Workshop have great products that blend these two worlds.
Technology is becoming more prevalent in higher education, is it a trend that will impact and take over younger children’s classrooms?
New technology has always been a part of the classroom. The pencil was actually a ‘new technology’ at one point. Great teachers will always be looking for ways to leverage new technologies to better serve their students, regardless of the age. The role of the in-classroom teacher isn’t going away anytime soon. Teaching is first and foremost a relational role in which we now curate content and model how it can be applied.
Should there be an age restriction on smartphones and other technological devices? What age would you recommend?
Maturity level should be taken into account. Parents know their child best, but I think intent or purpose needs to be measured. A certain level of responsibility and carefulness is also key when it comes to young children using technology. Children do not have the same perspective as adults to make wise and rational decisions. Great things can happen with technology, but the inverse can happen as well.
Is it a valid concern that the distraction of apps and games can possibly cause Attention Deficit Disorder and issues with social skill development?
The current research does not show this to necessarily be true. This has more to do with what level of brain stimulation the child receives from a particular activity. The pacing of some apps and games and the rewards they provide can be inviting for some children and not for others. We all like playing games, video or not, and the main reason is for the reward. How long a child can go before receiving a reward is connected to their engagement level, regardless of the activity. Simply put, if a child isn’t interested, their attention will wane. There is some very interesting research out there that I encourage parents to look into. If you have questions about this in regard to your child, I encourage you to seek the advice of your medical professional.
What tips would you provide for our parents to embrace the digital age? If so, how?
Be in the room with your kids when they are online, and consider their ‘digital footprint’. When I work in the garden with my students at Shanghai American School, we have one very important rule that I believe applies to internet usage for kids and adults: leave the garden cleaner than it was when you got there. We should strive to contribute to the internet in ways that make it better.
Are there any skills or knowledge that children can learn solely from using technology, or is technology simply an ornamental replacement of the old teaching methods?
The internet has made it so all knowledge is available to anyone at anytime. Adults are no longer the gatekeepers of knowledge. We now need to help kids curate and make use of knowledge to improve the world. Computer coding with kid-friendly apps such as Apple’s Swift Playgrounds, robotics and virtual augmented reality are just some technological trends that will continue to shape the coming years. If we ignore these trends we risk not preparing our children for what is ahead.
This year Daniel Merker was named an Apple Distinguished Educator for his use of technology in the classroom. He is passionate about finding authentic ways to incorporate technology into his classroom so he can better serve his students.