Expanding Access to Early Childhood Education Technology

Shreya Shah

Today, Early Childhood Development (ECD) is recognized as one of the most important and cost effective interventions in the life of a child. A vast body of evidence from neurobiology, developmental psychology, and economics have highlighted the importance of intervening early in a child’s life, with better child and adult socio-economic outcomes including improved school completion rates, reduced crime rates, and higher earnings (Heckman, 2007, Heckman et al, 2010; Gertler et al 2014).  CEI has profiled over 200 innovative programs targeting children between the ages of 0 and 8. Some of these programs are using technology to fill the gap in access to ECD in countries around the world. There are programs that use technology to train teachers, to reach out of school children, to help reading and math abilities, to help children learn skills like team work, and to teach socioemotional skills.

Clevio Coder Camp, a recent addition to the CEI network, is using programming to help young children in Indonesia learn important skills like teamwork, critical thinking and entrepreneurship. The program targets children ages 6-15, and uses their love of games to help them learn and create. Coaches (a term the organization deliberately uses instead of teaching) provide lessons in programming, character, and skill building. A typical class consists of children working together in groups of 2 to 3 on one computer. The program uses a cross subsidization model to ensure that children from poor households are not left out. However, because the concept of learning through programming is new, Clevio, the organization running the program, says that’s it is an uphill battle to convince parents that young children can code, and that they can learn through computer games.

Another ECD program uses a more traditional form of technology – the radio – to help children from marginalized populations in Pakistan gain numeracy and literacy skills. The Broad Class - Listen to Learn radio program, implemented by The Communications (Pvt.) Ltd., in Pakistan, uses radio to deliver English lessons and teaching materials on air, aimed at primary school children, ages 5 and above. Audio lessons guide teachers and students through activities, games, and exercises that teach culturally, linguistically and contextually relevant knowledge and skills to marginalized populations. During short pauses built into radio scripts, teachers and students participate in the program, reacting verbally and physically to questions and exercises posed by radio characters. The program, piloted in 45 schools in 2012, received positive feedback from teachers, students and government, and aims to expand to more schools.

The JAAGO Foundation Online School Program uses technology to reach underprivileged populations in remote areas of Bangladesh. Classrooms in remote areas are connected to teachers (who are graduates, with at least one year’s experience) through the Internet. The lessons are delivered via video conferencing technology. The remote centers have two physically present facilitators. The aim is to connect children with trained educators and bridge the gap between richer households that are able to afford high quality pre-primary education for their children, and children from poor households who often do not receive any kind of pre-primary education. Students selected for the program are 4 and 5 years old, and come from families that live on less than $2 a day.

Ghana Reads, a program implemented by Open Learning Exchange Ghana, also targets low-income pre-primary and primary school students. The program has devised a way to provide the government with a scalable model for achieving universal literacy in Ghana within the financial constraints of its government. Low cost pocket sized mobile school Basic e-Learning Libraries (BeLLs) have been installed in 20 rural elementary schools. These come with computer servers with two terabytes of open educational resources, which are connected to a projector, laser printer, speakers, and monitors to allow for large group lesson delivery, and monitors for individual use.  Additional resources can be added through flash drives or created locally using a keyboard and video camera. The program also seeks to provide students with technology such as tablets and mobile devices to enable them to practice reading independently or in small groups, while teachers record and monitor their progress.

In a new program profiled on CEI, technology is being used to reduce prejudice. One Globe Kids, an app developed by Globe Smart Kids, creates an imagined contact experience that aims to increase empathy, reduce prejudice and the anxiety of interacting with others, and develop other socioemotional and cross-cultural skills in children. The materials help children experience having friends across geographic, linguistic and other boundaries that may otherwise be difficult to cross. The app is developed in such a way that children feel as though they have made a new friend. Each story, is informed by real children and families around the globe, and has more than 100 images and child-recorded audio to make the interaction as real as possible. Children can join their friend as they get ready in the morning, play with friends and family, have dinner, go to school, etc. A version of the app also includes a teacher guide with background information on the location, discussion themes, and activities appropriate for individual, small group and large group work.  The materials can be used to encourage 21st century skills such as social and emotional intelligence, perspective-taking and creative and adaptive thinking in the classroom.

Does your organization run an innovative Early Childhood Development program? We would be happy to add your program to our database of profiles on the Center for Education Innovations. Write to us at cei@r4d.org, and we’ll get back with more information on the profiling process.

Shreya Shah is an Early Childhood Development intern at R4D, a masters student at Georgetown University's Global Human Development program, and has written for The Wall Street Journal.

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