Home » The good, bad, and ugly of children’s apps

The good, bad, and ugly of children’s apps

Education is not truly enlightening until it is nurturing curiosity, interest, and fascination of the world as it is, but also as it could be. Innovation breeds in the soup of doubt; the wondrous miracles that ‘doubt’ has brought forth are the stuff of dreams unfolding in research labs, incubators, and so forth.

‘Doubt is a key to unlocking new ideas. Einstein doubted Newton. Picasso doubted Michelangelo. Beethoven doubted Mozart.’

-Rod Judkins

Almost everything new we learn today is through the internet. Digital education is revolutionizing learning by making it possible for people across socioeconomic divides to have access to the largest library of information known to humanity thus far. Living in this new world does require a little adjusting though. Unfiltered and unmonitored access to screens can be very damaging to young children. The key is to focus on mentoring more and monitoring less. Mentoring means creating an environment where the children are comfortable talking about their online experiences.

Technology can allow children to discover new ways of learning, playing and creating that are different from traditional media. In the digital age, it is possible to enhance real-world play with technology rather than replace it.

Early childhood is a great time to lay down healthy attitudes about the use and benefits of technology in homes. These early formed habits would go far in laying down the foundations of a truly evolved society. A society that can use technology as a constructive tool without loss of the human aspects of living on this planet, and where our lifestyles are in symbiosis with the world.

So how do you know if an app is helping or harming your child?

Here is the low-down on what you need to know:

  • Children younger than two years of age learn best by adult interaction. They may be able to pick up new words from word learning apps, but only if their parents co-watch and re-teach the words. In this case, the videos act merely as scaffolding to build language skills upon.
  • Not all interactivity is equally beneficial. A child tapping the screen does not equal learning. Learning occurs when the learner has to think critically, find similarities, or notice differences between new and prior knowledge.
  • Loud music, excessive sound effects, other features and characters that are not directly related to the content being taught are likely to distract and reduce comprehension, despite being entertaining.
  • Many apps use manipulative or misleading ads that lead the user to purchase screens outside the app. This increases the child’s vulnerability to unsuitable content and creates distractions that may reduce the effectiveness of the apps learning outcomes.
  • Learning occurs when the information is being presented in a context that makes it meaningful and applicable to their own lives. When an app can connect a concept to their everyday life outside the screens, it engages deeper levels of processing and achieves better learning. For example, a lesson on basic shapes should encourage the learner to see similarities with basic shapes in everyday objects.
  • Most apps are designed to be used independently by even a very young child, however, this should not displace real-world interactions. Many apps creatively encourage activities in the real-world that are transferable to the digital media or activities that encourage children to perform tasks in the real-world based on lessons learnt from digital engagement. For example, an app could ask a child to draw a character described in the story and upload their results. Multi-player games can also increase social interactions.
  • Look for apps that promote active learning. This means that the child is inclined to apply what they learnt through the app, or is able to explore, ask questions, even challenge what was shown, thereby taking an active part in their learning with parents and the app playing a supportive role.

Working in the education sector in a developing country means that we are still struggling at the grassroots level to make sure that every child in Pakistan can read and write. To be able to do so means so much more now than ever before when accessing any information or skill, anywhere in the world, requires a mere screen and an internet connection.

It is imperative to mention here that as a continuously evolving platform, more research is needed to better understand how much learning styles vary across ages, ability levels and socioeconomic conditions and what sort of content suits each different learning style. By paying careful attention to these criteria, policy makers, educationists and parents alike can make sure that educational apps provide truly beneficial and educational experiences across the socioeconomic spectrum.

This article is a small part of ongoing research at Orenda to understand and develop better learning experiences; as an investment in a more awake, aware and humane society.
Writer’s Bio: Salwa A.Hayee works at Orenda, home of the Taleemabad app and other educational initiatives. She can be reached at salwa.hayee@taleemabad.com
You can download the Taleemabad app at the following Google Play link.

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