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What Does Screen Time Really Do to Our Kids?

Editor’s Note: The author of this piece, through her organization Kidskintha, is hosting the 2021 World Early Years Summit, a virtual conference featuring expert presenters on a range of topics in early childhood and elementary education. Learn more about the summit here

We are living in unprecedented times, with the pandemic having accelerated our learning curve and adaptation to new uses of technology. Well, if not new, sustained use of technology for old purposes. The education industry is one of the most disrupted sectors because it involves even our youngest children. 

Digital learning has become the norm for most of us, so much that it’s hard to imagine that most of us thought it impossible or simply crazy to teach children with the screen between us. Concerns about screen-time have been on the rise – many parents feel powerless over the screen-addiction building in their kids. It’s not for nothing that the NetFlix movie ‘The Social Dilemma’ created ripples everywhere – people everywhere, especially parents, could clearly imagine the unfolding of such a thing in their lives. 

However, there’s good news. Technology can be great. Screen time can motivate children. Mobile apps can accelerate learning- and if this is done early enough – it carries an astounding multiplier effect. 

There’s a growing body of evidence that interactive apps have helped increase proficiency in literacy skills, knowledge of the alphabet, phonological awareness, and numeracy skills, and in many cases, have proven to be much more effective than classroom instruction alone.

Many might recall the much-viewed TED talk by Dr. Sugata Mitra, where he spoke about his “school in the cloud” experiment that demonstrated the ability of children to miraculously self-organize and learn on their own. The good news with the proliferation of technology is that the trend only seems to increase at a dramatic pace with smartphone penetration putting learning apps in the hands of parents – even illiterate ones, and thereby, in the hands of the children who need them. 

Curious Learning, an organization with a mission to empower everyone to read, works with the partners to curate, localize and distribute free, open-source apps to children in under-resourced countries. The results have been staggering so far. 

Curious Learning’s results from the pilot research with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University, and Georgia State University across seven countries and 4000 children pointed to evidence that touch-interface apps for learning to read are very helpful in aiding personalized intervention for literacy skills. The team found that learning times were slashed significantly with the use of appropriate apps for learning. 

Here’s an example: The usage of the ‘Feed The Monster’ app in Arabic-speaking refugee children showed that an average of just 22 hours on the app resulted in learning outcomes equivalent to 2-3 months of learning in a well-resourced school. Another example would be increased reading fluency and accuracy after using a game created by the Behavioral Science Institute in Holland. 

From the pilot study, the Curious Learning team estimated that approximately 500 hours of appropriate usage of a curated set of learning apps would result in the equivalent of 3 years of schooling! Such results are game-changers for education – and the most beautiful part is that they come at a fraction of the cost!

Not to mention that learning apps can still be used effectively along with classroom instruction. 

The Curious Learning team works on the basis of the AppMap chart – a chart that lists the collection of skills needed to become a proficient reader.  The AppMap chart categorizes apps in the Learning Referral Network(LRN) based on the skills it addresses and the languages it covers. The skills themselves are graded and divided into four broad levels of achievement – pre-reader, emerging reader, early reader, and consolidating reader.  Then, the AppMapp chart matches the learning objectives and content areas in a particular app to the skills and skill levels, indicating the areas covered by each app. 

A set of multiple apps curated in this highly scientific and targeted fashion is now ready to yield learning outcomes in a fraction of the time of regular classroom learning. Learning windows are astonishingly compressed.

With great power comes great responsibility. Technology unleashes the kind of power never seen before, but if used correctly – well – the results are for everyone to see!

Watch Dr. Stephanie Gottwald from Curious Learning speak at the World Early Years Summit 2021 on the ‘Neuroscience of Early Reading,’ along with 30 other amazing speakers! Catch the event free on March 23rd & 24th, 2021. Register here.

About Devishobha Chandramouli

Devishobha is the founder of Kidskintha – a global parenting and education collective, and the host of the global virtual conferences hosted on the platform, one of them hosted in collaboration with UNESCO. You can also find her voice on the Huffington Post, Mother.ly, Entrepreneur, LifeHack, TinyBuddha, Thought Catalog and many other publications.

Follow Devishobha Chandramouli on Twitter @kidskintha

 

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