The Challenges of Education in the Digital Age

By Eduardo Henrique, Head of Global Expansion at PlayKids

The children of the Alpha Generation, born after 2010, are digital natives and learn to turn on a tablet and cellphone long before they can write their own name. From an early age, they have access to a multitude of information, as well as resources that allow them to develop in an autonomous, participatory and, above all, interesting, fun and playful way. Our biggest challenge is to better understand this behavioral change and how we can use it for our little ones education. Technology is perhaps one of the most important tools to revolutionize and democratize education.

Today’s children will enter the labor market around 2030, when the world will be very different from what it is today. Whether you like it or not, this new world will be highly influenced by technology. This has implications for us, our children, and our society.

Authorities in some US states are planning the number of jails that will be built 15 years from now based on how well prepared children are when they arrive in the 3rd grade. That’s shocking but some experts say the impact comes even as early as kindergarten. Theories point out that if parents can successfully stimulate children to enjoy reading and develop their ability to socialize up to age 5, the chances of a promising life increase considerably, which has been shown to reduce crime rates.

Considering this scenario, it is easy to imagine how challenging it is for schools and parents to attract a child’s interest in learning. The mission becomes even more complicated because educational institutions still follow a traditional model practiced for centuries where a teacher exposes concepts in front of a classroom, probably filled with bored, yawning and dispersed children. This problem does not match the current situation of access to knowledge and information. Until the year 1900, the knowledge and information accessible to humankind doubled every century. Now, human knowledge is growing exponentially and it is expected that soon the amount of knowledge will double every 12 hours!

The worst thing about this reality is that parents and teachers are abandoned when the topic of digital education comes up. Without references or guides on how to positively use technology to develop their children, parents can get overwhelmed. An obvious consequence of this abandonment is the fear that they are not doing their best for their little ones. The result of this feeling is that it becomes easier to demonize technology and return to a comfort zone without technology, tablets and or smartphones.

Before proceeding, let me remind you that I do not consider healthy the overuse of technology. If we look at an adult playing online poker for 10 hours a day, a young man who focus only on his video games for long periods or a child passively exposed to videos, they will certainly cause similar problems, such as difficulty in socializing, sedentary lifestyle, etc.

What is the solution to this dilemma?

I was recently in Los Angeles attending the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Annual Conference, the largest US fair for teachers of children under 8 years. Many of the sessions addressed the impact of technology on education, and a few points caught my attention:

  • I’ve been working with technology for children for four years and it was the first time I’ve seen top scientists say that technology, if used correctly with the support and involvement of parents and teachers, is beneficial to children.
  • Teachers and parents need help in meeting the challenge. They are lagging behind in the knowledge of how to apply technology in early childhood education. It is necessary to invest in training, explanatory videos, guides to lead them.
  • We are more advanced than we think. There are already many applications, sites, videos available (many are free with healthy activities for the family), but fear still alienates parents and teachers from experimenting.
  • The problem is not in technology. Scientists say that for all concepts to work, it is fundamental that parents and teachers participate in playing, dancing, drawing, studying math and having fun with the kids while using technology.
  • The use of music allied to technology has a colossal potential, especially with younger children. Check out the work of teacher and writer Eric Litwin, who does a fantastic job putting together books, stories and music with a different way of stimulating and teaching kids how to read.
  • Bureaucracy hinders the adoption of all this in schools. For example, in order to be eligible for an app in a school, you must pass a ton of certifications and authorizations. Because of fear and conservatism, this process is not feasible from a business point of view.

The answers are also on the internet. The relationship with knowledge, after globalization and computerization, has acquired another dimension and education, unfortunately, has not followed its broad steps. The role of technology is fundamental in this process because that is the key to meet the expectations of these children. The technology wave is too big to block, and parents and teachers are going to have to use the internet to find ways to learn how to deal with technology, to then be able to put pressure on large institutions to massively adopt such practices.

This is how we will construct knowledge in an autonomous and collaborative way, in which the student becomes an active subject and not just a spectator. After all, the Alpha Generation, as digital natives, will have more than enough skills to relate to new media. In many cases, even teach us how technology works.

Developers of services and products need to focus on children needs to invest, more and more, in experiences that are integrated with the parents. PlayKids, for example, can connect families to offline activities that increase learning and foster coexistence between parents and children. The same applies to schools. As an example, PlayKids already offers a game that teaches how to draw using a real sheet of paper. Another example is the activities proposed by the series called SuperHands, which invites the family to build toys with household objects such as clothespins, toilet paper, tape, string and others. These are just a few examples of exercises that we believe are clearly appropriate to the kind of creative activity that scientists recommend between parents and children.

Finally, I am very afraid of the negative influence of powerful brands that are present in our market. It is clear that renown online tools offer a passive, sedentary, and non-interactive experience to children, not to mention the advertising system used between episodes. This goes against all the theory being built and collaborates with demonizing the use of technology to aid the development of children.

My final analysis is extremely positive. We are at the beginning of a revolution and many of the battles are in our hands. We can build together a better and more connected future for our children if we just lose our fear and dive headlong into the challenge.