From being a supplementary conduit of information and firmly monitored entertainment, digital devices have now become virtual classrooms for millions of children all over the world. How this transition during the pandemic has impacted early childhood care and education is a question that cannot be answered immediately. Only time will reveal the ramifications of this change, say, experts, though some pros and cons are evident even now.
Rajesh Bhatia, Founder, and CEO of TreeHouse has created a borderless model of preschool education that can be accessed from anywhere in the world and has observed from close quarters how the engagement of children with the digital world has increased during the pandemic. He says, “The pandemic has reminded us all of the importance of freedom of movement, interactions with loved ones, colleagues and friends but it is during this difficult time that technology has come to our rescue. Especially for educators, technology is proving to be a boon during the pandemic.”
He says, during this unprecedented time, online learning programs are helping preschoolers to develop new skills, cultivate a sense of community, and also taste some form of socialising with educators and peer groups. They also prepare young children for formal schooling and Rajesh adds, “At TreeHouse, for instance, we use a broad range of technology-enhanced education strategies to teach early literacy and math concepts. To compensate for the absence of brick-and-mortar playschools, we use fun interactive games and activities to reinforce concepts. We also use videos to broaden minds and perspectives.”
These methods are not without their challenges, he reminds and says, “The primary challenge is to somehow compensate for social interaction and collaborative learning. At home, children are easily distracted and can be resistant to staying put in one place during a regimented time to study. Or they may act out if the parental pressure is getting to them. That is why it is important that we make the learning process as stress-free and as enjoyable as possible.”
He however adds that technology was meant to augment children’s understanding of the real world and not replace it. Says Rajesh, “While technology helps to plug learning gaps at a time like this, it is important that parents structure screen time, engage kids in activities like reading, and actual games and expose them to nature wherever possible because excessive screen time can harm mental and physical health. Excessive exposure to the Internet is not healthy either. We cannot also ignore that a digital divide is an unfortunate reality. Automated learning modules depend on expensive devices which may not be affordable for all. Internet accessibility in rural and remote areas is another major issue. Education is a right and not a privilege and so the potential of online education should be tapped to bridge the digital divide and benefit underserved children.”
Rajesh believes that like everything in life, what we need while approaching online learning is a sense of balance and proper perspective. He says, “I know from experience that the human brain learns fast when it enjoys the activity and that is why we try to incorporate as much joy, rhythm, and interactive energy in our modules. We use music and dance as well to take the stress out of lessons.”
What is important, he concludes, is that a child’s development should not be hindered. The magic ingredients of discipline, structure, balance, social interactions, physical activity, and joy should be intrinsic to education, be it the chalk and talk method or e-learning.