Computer Studies in Early Childhood Education: How to Approach Online Learning with ESC- Martín Torres

In recent years, the notion on the importance of including content related to Computer Studies in educational systems around the world has spread. It is relevant to point out the change in the paradigm I call “the ICT approach.” This approach guided the policies that ensured the inclusion of technology in education from 1990 until around 2010 and was focused on the use of computers and digital networks given their notable capacity to contribute to knowledge development in different areas. From this viewpoint, technology is considered a medium to learn and understand the world. Therefore, educational systems centered their interest on teaching how to use the different tools (words processors, spreadsheets, simulators, design software, games, media editors, online documents, among others) that could be used to access content across several subjects. 

Since 2010, with the global spread of the “Computational Thinking” concept (Wing, 2010, https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~CompThink/resources/TheLinkWing.pdf) -taking into consideration the potential of digital technology-, the conviction that it is possible to benefit from the way that Computer Studies professionals think to better understand the world grew stronger. At the same time, digital media faced unprecedented growth, so that nowadays it is one more aspect in human lives. It is in this context that the shift happened, which proposes an approach where computers and the networks used are the subject matter. This implies teaching how they are built, how they work, and how they are able to collect and process data around the world and, most importantly, how to program them so that we can create things. It is similar to what was put forward by Seymour Papert between 1970 and 1989 with the inclusion of computers and the LOGO language in schools.

A particularity of this shift is that the implementation is proposed to start since the first years of schooling. Therefore, even if the scope and participation levels to execute this may vary, many of the initiatives launched in different countries include curricular proposals and equipment provision to early childhood education centers.

Countries may have different motivations to do this, ranging from the need to prepare future generations for a hyper connected world to the demands of the industry or the promotion of STEM career paths. In some cases, it is all these reasons. Depending on where the focus is placed, different pedagogical approaches will apply.

Technology as a pedagogical area

Technologies in general, and computer sciences in particular, have been granted a sense of neutrality and universality that sheltered them from any kind of internal analysis, while placing the concern of governments and experts on education around teaching best practices. In this sense, the task that educational systems have is to develop our skills as users of computers, smartphones, social media, apps, etc.

However, there is a growing number of studies (and cases) that shows that not all kinds of technology provide a positive response in all contexts. On the contrary, there are biases in the designs, created by the perspective of the world of those in charge of these designs. This perspective is not (and can never be) the same in each part of the world were this technology -in our case, computers-, is used. UNESCO has expressed their concerns about ethics in robotics design (https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000253952), as well as Artificial Intelligence in relation to education (https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000376709). 

If learning is strongly related to the experiences we go through to develop it, it should be noted that, depending on the type of hardware and software used for teaching Computer Sciences, the results may vary greatly. If the proposal is focused on closed technologies that have little possibilities of modification and no connection to other technology, instead of promoting processes of critical thinking framed in notions of active citizen participation, we would be facing a process of mass training for the use (and probably the commercialization) of a given product. The limiting effects in learning must not be set aside, even less when working with early childhood. 

It is necessary to take into account the design of the technology that will be used in schools and kindergarten as a pedagogical priority.

Computational participation: insights for ESD from the perspective of early childhood

This is directly related to the goal of digital literacy promoted at a global scale by organizations, States and a wide variety of social organizations and stakeholders. Since this is an important point to prepare younger generations for a cyber-physical world, a dilemma arises that cannot be ignored: should we aim at adapting to the integration or, on the contrary, to provide the knowledge and skills for a critical participation striving to address the issues that affect our communities?

If we aim for the first option, the focus will be on passive, mass training to use the available technological tools. However, if we strive to address the unresolved issues, the best approach is the computational participation (Burke et al, 2016, https://ila.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jaal.496.)This means providing the tools so that computing forms a part of the solutions created by the communities to respond to their issues. By developing apps, including programming and robotics aspects into devices, objects and other creations, we are building representative responses for a given cultural context. The spaces that promote free software and hardware are a great contribution to this end. It is equally as important the implementation of teacher training proposals related to this same goal.

OMEP World declares “Rights from the start” as their slogan. For this reason, they develop tireless work in favor of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in early childhood. Computational systems will affect the development dynamics in all countries around the world, as well as the development of social and individual practices. It is essential to include the right to computational participation as an emerging right in the modern world. This is a right that demands knowledge and skills for its full execution and that needs to be implemented since early childhood.

The 72nd World Assembly is the perfect opportunity to include this topic among the challenges that education faces this century. This contribution aims to provide some insight to this end.

Martín Torres is a Ph.D. research fellow in the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET, for its Spanish acronym) and the Córdoba National University (UNC), in Argentina. He is a Ph.D. student of Education in Basic Science and Technology in the Faculty of Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics and Computer Studies (FAMAF, in the UNC), where he conducts research on training in ITC for ECE teachers. He holds a Master’s degree in Technology, Policies and Culture. He is also part of the teaching department of Digital Technologies and Computer Sciences of the teacher training college in Córdoba. Apart from this, he is a teacher and trainer.

This article collects some of the findings of the research study as presented by its author in the Master’s degree thesis project “Aportes para una apropiación crítica de conocimientos y usos de hardware y software de programación y robótica en la educación para la primera infancia de Argentina” [Insights for critical thinking regarding knowledge and the use of hardware and software for programming and robotics in early childhood education in Argentina], which is available in Spanish at https://rdu.unc.edu.ar/handle/11086/23970 | martin.torres76@gmail.com 

Computer Studies in Early Childhood Education: How to Approach Online Learning with ESC- Martín Torres

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