The Role of Innovation and Technology in Early Learning: An Important Conversation for ASU GSV and Beyond

May 3, 2017

Too often the conversation around technology and young children moves quickly to a debate about screen time. Yet with smartphone and tablet access rapidly increasing at home and in schools/centers, one-third of children in the US not ready for kindergarten and 45% of three- and four-year-old children not enrolled in preschool, it is time to reframe the conversation. Let’s explore how and when innovation and technology can be leveraged most effectively as a tool to transform early childhood experiences and increase quality in early learning—particularly for the most underserved.

Next week, we look forward to convening an important discussion at ASU GSV, a leading gathering of innovators across the education sectors. We will convene and moderate a panel about how technology can help improve the quality of early learning both online and offline—by engaging young learners in developmentally appropriate experiences and increasing the capacity of the adults that care for them across environments.

ASU GSV brings together a large community working on innovation in education, yet historically, early learning has been underrepresented at the conference as compared to its larger K-12 and higher education counterparts. For the first time at ASU GSV, the K-12 track is being expanded to PreK-12—a development that can shine a much-needed spotlight on the importance of early learning to spark greater investment and innovation.

One-third of all US children and more than half of all low-income children enter kindergarten unprepared for their K-12 experience. Children who start behind most often stay behind. Children who enter kindergarten unprepared are 25% more likely to drop out of high school, 60% more likely to skip college, and 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime. Eighty-five percent or more of the brain develops before the age of five, laying the foundation for an individual’s life. Given the critical importance of birth to five in the determination of human potential, we must find new solutions to meet children’s and families’ needs.

Meeting Children and Families Where They Are
Young children move fluidly across environments among parents’ and caregivers’ homes, informal or formal care, center-based early learning, and more (see figure below). Technology is not a panacea to address educational challenges. However, we are seeing exciting opportunities to use technology as a lever to deliver scalable online and offline quality learning experiences across a number of key environments for early learners and their parents or primary caregivers—in order to meet them where they are.


 Source: Achieving Kindergarten Readiness for All Our Children; Pritzker, Bradach & Kaufmann

Our ASU GSV panelists represent organizations working to impact quality early learning from a variety of angles.

Brian Fitzgerald is the co-founder and CEO of Tinkergarten, a company that has recruited and trained over 575 leaders to deliver play-based early learning classes in the healthiest classroom of all—outdoors! —utilizing local parks in 45 states across the country and now serving over 50,000 families. Tinkergarten uses a technology platform to recruit, train, and mobilize its distributed workforce while providing an engaging, on-the-ground learning experience to the children it serves.

Chris Bennett is the co-founder and CEO of Wonderschool, a company whose mission is to provide quality childcare to every child in the world. Wonderschool is building a platform where people can start infant and toddler programs and preschools out of their homes. Through a "preschool in a box" model, Wonderschool provides assistance with licensing, curriculum, school setup, and everything in between. Their software allows teachers to manage their students, parents, and their school from one dashboard alongside a marketplace for parents to search for schools, schedule visits, enroll their children, and make payments.

Caroline Hu Flexer is the co-founder and CEO of Duck Duck Moose, creator of an award-winning library of 21 educational apps and one of the first app developers for young children. Duck Duck Moose recently became a subsidiary of Khan Academy to make their apps free and more accessible to families and educators across the US and the world. Under Khan Academy, the team is now building a new mobile platform to enable any child from age 2-5 to become kindergarten ready.

Utah State Senator Howard Stephenson is a champion for education broadly and specifically for early learning. Under his leadership, Utah has publicly funded UPSTART, a program of the Waterford Institute, to increase kindergarten readiness for children across Utah. UPSTART now has pilots in Mississippi and Ohio. There are many reasons that young children do not attend preschool, including both access and personal choice. UPSTART is an evidenced-based, in-home, technology-delivered kindergarten readiness program that gives preschool-age children individualized reading, math, and science instruction with a distinct focus on fidelity of implementation and access to technology and internet connectivity.

If we fail to meet young learners in the various environments where they spend their earliest years, we miss an opportunity to lay a strong foundation for education attainment and ultimately to advance human potential. We look forward to bringing these leaders together to discuss how we can support more opportunities for high quality early learning for children and families.

Join the conversation at #innov8ece on Twitter or Tuesday, May 9 at 11 a.m. MT in Grand Ballroom A at ASU GSV at Innovations in Early Learning: Online, Offline, or Both?

Omidyar Network is an investor in both Tinkergarten and Duck Duck Moose.

Learn more about our work here

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