Amidst the turbulent landscape of 2020, there has been much shifting and adjusting in many areas of life. More people than ever have settled into working from home. General cold and flu symptoms have reportedly lessened over the winter, thanks to social distancing and regimented hand-sanitising. But one thing no-one could have imagined was how humans would come to rely so heavily on technology in these strange times.
Education has changed dramatically over the last century. It’s all in the attitude. The world began to shift from a place where children are seen, not heard, to a more contemporary and collaborative style of educating. Where children’s input is valued and encouraged. Early childhood educators have come to understand that learning doesn’t need to be one way. It can instead, be reciprocal, an enriching experience for everyone involved, as children often remind us there is much we can learn from them.
Then came the introduction of the internet, along with widespread access to wifi, which has been a game-changer over the last couple of decades.
Already in effect amongst teenagers and adults for some time now, online content and delivery has become standard practice. Highschool kids drag their laptops along to school each day and are being offered certain subjects online. You can get a university degree, or operate a business from your living room with little more than a wifi connection. But it took a worldwide pandemic to force the early childhood sector to re-think their approach to teaching and learning too. Sure, there’s been technology use in early learning services previously… light research undertaken by children to support a segment of learning; apps used to document a child’s learning journey in care; but overall, not a great deal more than that. Until now.
For many months, online technologies have greatly supported a curriculum where young children have accessed learning from home. Zoom classes, video lessons, online tasks set for completion with educators encouraging from a distance. A significant shift - arguably fundamental to families during a pandemic.
Whether you thrive or scrabble with technology (or home learning), it seems that it’s here to stay in some way, shape or form. This year, many social aspects of the classroom environment have been disrupted (and in some places, continue to be), with children learning alone or alongside family members in their homes. The availability of technology has allowed many children to remain connected to educators and peers. Maintaining human contact, a routine, a social presence, a feeling of normality, and even a continuity of learning throughout a time of much uncertainty.
At the time of writing this article, childcare services in Melbourne are currently closed (*for everyone except the children of essential workers, that obtain a permit) for a six week lock-down period and similar stories are being heard from across the world. No doubt, managing any job whilst caring for young children at home is an incredibly tricky juggle, but let’s appreciate the fact that the services offering online support to families home with children, are able to do so thanks to advances in technology. Going back even twenty years, this simply wouldn't have been an option. Families would have been entirely on their own, with no support.
As in all things, there’s more than one way to view a topic. While the increased use of technology has proven to be an unexpected light throughout a dark time, simply put, technology requires management. Management implemented and overseen by both educators and families. Access to technology requires supervision and time limits, combined with a well-balanced mixture of activities and experiences. For some children a heavy reliance on technology can be too much to cope with, the mental stimulation overwhelming. It’s the unfortunate burden that accompanies technology use. With awareness, however, you can get the balance right, meaning that efforts made can instead be viewed as beneficial and worth persevering. This is the balance we should all be aiming for. According to the Raising Children Network "Screen time and screen use can be part of a healthy lifestyle" as long as "children enjoy lots of healthy, fun activities, both with and without screens, including physical activity, reading, creative play and social time with family and friends".