Dialogue

How to raise a smart technology user early on?

Different digital technologies are not only in the lives of adults. Modern devices' users become younger and younger and that can be seen every day. In order to understand how to change our way of thinking, so that both adults and youngsters are smart technology users, we talked to the professor at Latvian University - Zanda Rubene. 

 

One of the biggest myths not only in Latvia, but also in other European Union countries is the belief that children shouldn't use technologies. Professor Zanda Rubene highlights that technological inventions and devices on their own are neither bad nor good. The question is just how we use them. “The myth that little children should not use technologies has been created by the not knowing or understanding of adults. As of now we can overall observe the tendency, that people have had a bit too much of these technologies. We have lived through the first bit of the wild digitalization, where we bought everything and used it, just because we could. But now adults themselves have come to a conclusion, that because of technologies they lose time, they start seeing characteristics of addiction, they go into problems with using technologies,” explains the expert. 

 

Technologies for the development of the child

People sometimes think that it is as easy as now suddenly we will decide to use technologies less or do it smarter, but it doesn't work that way. At the same time it is wonderful, that the world starts thinking about the smart use of technologies. “If we talk about young children, the use of technologies from the age of 3 is not seen as something that badly impacts the development of the child. Researchers believe that the ages between 3 and 6 years are the best, when to start using these devices. But here I want to highlight - the purpose should be to better the development of children. Important can be applications that are made for children that age or digital education tools that come with an adult, who can implement them in the classroom. Here we definitely are not talking about a two-year-old baby, who is left alone for hours in front of a screen. That possibly is the biggest harm that young children can get for using technologies,” says Zanda Rubene. 

In 2018 a research was done in the European Union on the habits of using technologies between children and within that research a new term was coined - technologies as nannies. Zanda Rubene explains: “Here we come in contradictions. Outside of kindergartens children use technologies at home, but more as a nanny so that parents have more free time, not as a tool for development. Of course, there are exceptions and there are careful parents that think a lot about how children use technologies and what they get out of them. One way or another, parents can disapprove of the usage of technologies in kindergarten as well, because they think that they will just spend their time mindlessly in front of a screen.”

 

What do neurologists say about this digitalization? 

Right now the existing guidelines suggest that children until the age of two should not use digital devices mostly because they are no use in ensuring development until that age. However, we should look at the exact things children should achieve at each stage of their development and see for ourselves if technologies can enhance the completion of them. If until the age of two children have to learn how to walk, grab, understand emotions, then possibly at that stage technologies don't have much use. However, in Finland and other Scandanavian countries there is a belief that the earlier a child understands how to use technologies, the bigger the gain for him or her it is going to be later down the road. 

3 to 6 years is a period that is believed to be a good time for the development of a child's understanding. That is the “why” period when a person wants to understand the world. “But here we come upon the thin ice, where we have to understand, whether the child uses digital technologies to purposely understand the world, or loses their sense of time and don't want to do anything else except use their tablet as an entertainment device. Kindergarten is the right place, where a teacher can purposely use digital devices by realizing the so-called combined learning,” says the specialist. She warns that if we keep children away from the use of the internet until the start of school, they will face bigger challenges later on. Usually it is worse not that they are not allowed to purposely use these technologies, but the fact that these devices are not used with the value they can bring. The process of education has to be balanced. Children have their own tasks of development and technologies have to be used to help fulfill these exercises. Because of that movement and possibility to learn while doing it is still there. 

 

Digital competences of adults 

There are parents who feel that they cannot control the children's wish to use technologies. “And we know, how the internet pulls us in, we know, how fast habits are created and how hard it is to break them. Often it can be seen that the process at home has gone its own way - parents are in technologies, children are in technologies and there is no communication between both. However, we should use information and communication technologies to communicate not to avoid communication. The result is that parents who have let everything go its own way at home, protest against the use of technologies in kindergartens, because children already have too much of a screentime. But the answer to this is competent educators who understand how to work with technologies and parents who are ready to work together with educators. In truth, in this situation purposeful use of technologies at the kindergarten could also help the situation that has created itself at home,” says the professor. In conclusion, the parent and educator task is to raise a generation that is a bit smarter in using technologies than us. And that is a big responsibility. 

Zanda Rubene explains, that in the guidelines created by the European Commission in 2019 states that we need to think about purposeful parent involvement and the raise of competence of parent's pedagogy. Of course, we have to take into account that kindergarten teachers as of now do not have high enough competence in the purposeful use of technologies. That is not the fault of educators, but a characteristic of a system. However, for a professional to progress in their career, feel good about it, and also keep the employer happy, they have to progress constantly. The rapidly changing world has changed the perspective on higher education. Often people tell me - I don't need higher education, I learn innovations in short courses. And that is true. Because of that professionals in education can't use the argument that they studied 20 years ago and the university never taught anything like the use of technologies. Times change and professionals nowadays have to find a chance to learn the newest tendencies in their field. 

 

Waves of digitalization

Latvian philosopher Pauls Jurēvičs during the 1920s-1930s has said that the good thing for new cultures is the chance to learn from the old ones. Even though the mistakes we have made are similar to other countries' mistakes, we are in a situation, where within our education system we can think of the third wave of digitalization, which means technology-rich learning.

First wave - equipping schools with technologies. Western culture believes that everything goes like this - if we put technologies in learning and working spaces, people will want to use them. The devices just collected dust, got old and nothing changed. 

Second wave - learning technological skills. Later on people understood that they needed to learn. Everyone - teachers, managers, employees, - need to acquire tech skills, i.e. how to use a computer, how to use different programs. 

Third-wave - technology-rich learning. Technology rich learning means that we have a device and people know how to turn it on and turn it off and then comes the question, how everyone can use their technologies in a smart way to achieve their goals. The good news is that the Ministry of Education in Latvia has been working since 2017 to create digital learning tools. At the same time at Latvian University new courses are created and there will be doctoral studies dedicated to creating education tools with an understanding that they will be digital tools. “Non-digital learning tools in Latvia possibly won't be created anymore really soon. Of course, we won't abandon books, but slowly learning tools also in kindergartens will become digital,” about future talks professor Rubene. 

 

Understanding gains 

Parents should look at technology-rich learning as an opportunity that allows more dynamic gain of information. It has been proved that a still picture on paper gives less information, than a moving three dimensional material on a screen. “Imagine a four-year-old dinosaur enthusiast. He or she has an app where all dinosaurs move and make sound. If a child uses this app with a teacher, it has an even bigger impact on development than a picture book,” says the expert. Visual representation has the biggest value in kindergarten, because, for a person, who can't read yet, the picture will be more important than text. Because of that a digital tool can be a powerful benefit. 

 

Little children with an addiction to internet 

it is not true that children, no matter the age, who show signs of internet addiction, can be helped by just taking their device away. That is not true. Child's experience, view on the world, and habits have already been created. Because of that, if we take something away, we have to give something in return and remember that you can't completely isolate yourself from technologies in this day and age. That is the exact reason why taking away devices won't solve any problems. “We have also conducted research on teacher's views on these issues. Often teachers say that digitalization is a sickness, and in their kindergarten class they try to shield children from it. At that point a split is created between kindergarten and home. We can't turn back time and technologies won't disappear. The question is how smart we will be in regard to using them. Children come to kindergarten already with basic skills in using technologies, so educators have to be capable of using the experience of children.”

Photo: Shutterstock.com

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