Teacher teaching children with digital tablet or iPad

Government to fund educational apps to encourage early learning

Image credit: Tom Wang | Dreamstime.com

Disadvantaged children will be given free access to educational apps to improve early learning at home and use screen time constructively, the education secretary has announced.

The Department of Education (DfE) plans to buy subscriptions for “high-quality early learning apps” for disadvantaged families with children aged between two and four, with plans to distribute the apps in 12 pilot areas across England.

According to a DfE spokeswoman, it is hoped that focusing on early learning in the comfort of their own home will enable children to arrive at school ready to learn, as on average, disadvantaged children are four months behind in their overall development at the age of five.

Announcing the initiative, education secretary Damian Hinds said: “Not all screen time is created equal: on one side there are the pressures that come with social media and the time spent looking at a screen, which is a key worry for parents – but on the other, the power of technology and the internet can open up a whole new world when embraced properly.

“But it’s also difficult to navigate, and often expensive, so I want to support parents of all backgrounds to feel able to embrace its benefits and use it in a measured, sensible way that helps improve children’s early development at home.”

Hinds has also called on families to use the technology more ‘positively’ amid fears children are spending too much time glued to their screens.

“Screens can be an easy distraction for children but harnessing the power of technology to support early communication and development means that we have another tool in our arsenal to help young kids develop those skills.”

Experts have previously warned that some parents are using tablet devices as a tool to keep their children quiet, but these distracted children have very little knowledge of what they are looking at. And due to a lack of practice at home, children are turning up to school unable to speak properly or understand basic commands.

Hinds also confirmed that nearly 6,000 families in the north of England and up to 375 schools and nurseries will take part in four new programmes to provide practical tools and advice on early education: Tips by Text, Making-it-REAL, Group Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) and the Parent Child Home Programme.

These four projects will be run by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and Leeds-based education charity SHINE as part of work to achieve the education secretary’s 10-year ambition to halve the proportion of children leaving reception without the expected communication skills.    

Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF, said: “By testing different ways of improving the home learning environment – from texts to parents to home visits –  these new trials will give us much-needed information about how we can give mums and dads the tools they need to give their child the very best start in life.”

“Research consistently shows that communication and language difficulties in the early years can hold back children for the rest of their time in education,” SHINE chief executive Fiona Spellman added.

“These programmes are a great way of seeing how we can make a real difference at an early stage and support all children to achieve their potential.”

In light of the UK government’s plans to increase the use of educational apps, a province in eastern China has a different approach towards the uses of tablets.

As part of an effort to save students’ eyesight, the province in China is moving to ban teachers from assigning homework on mobile apps.

Furthermore, along with banning the app-based homework assignments, the Zhejiang regulation would limit the use of electronic devices to 30 per cent of total teaching time and instead encourage homework to be completed by hand on paper.

The education ministry also called for only paper homework assignments for primary and middle school students “in principle.”

In October 2018, the Culture Secretary said that the UK government may introduce a levy on social media firms to pay for educational programmes that teach young people digital literacy skills. 

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