I was fortunate to attend Tuesday’s “Bridging the Digital Divide: A Forum on Using Technology in Early Childhood Education” sponsored by the RAND Corporation and PNC Grow Up Great. This was an excellent opportunity to hear from education experts and network on this important policy issue. Knowing that eighty percent of four year olds receive regular care from someone other than their parents and three quarters of these children attend a preschool program, a quality early childhood education (ECE) is essential. We know that increased higher education graduation rates, good jobs, higher earnings and greater self-sufficiency come from quality ECE. Unfortunately, too many disadvantaged children are behind their peers in technology, access and use. The question remains can technology and ECE reduce this digital divide, as well as, provide opportunities to build cognitive, social and motor skills.
A two prong approach is needed that supports access to devices not only in schools but also in households in low income areas. Too many preschools do not have computers, adequate bandwidth and appropriate software. As I listened to the presentations, I was heartened that BNI had made a significant commitment to ensure that the infrastructure that we needed was in place. Today our school is wireless; we have two desktop computers per room and 70+ iPads. Yet computers and iPads remain only one tool in a teacher’s tool kit.
I was excited to hear about Message From Me, a new system of communication between pre-k children and their parents to improve school and home consistency. Funded through a grant from The Grable Foundation and PNC Grow Up Great, preschool children are able to take digital pictures, record audio messages and send them to their families via email and cell phone technology. The outcomes are many: increased self-esteem and independence, enhanced communication and social skills. What parent would not enjoy receiving a message from their child at school? Currently in the pilot phase, I learned that an app should become available in September.
Thanks to PNC Grow Up Great for sponsoring this research and leading the charge to bring quality ECE to all children.