The Department of Education is to make a curated group of EdTech apps free to disadvantaged UK children. EdTech, or Education Technology, apps are those specifically designed to promote learning. The apps being looked at as part of the programme will be those targeted at pre-school speech and language skills. It is hoped that licensing agreements can be struck with the creators of selected apps so that they can be made free to at least 20,000 families in the UK.
The move raises the question of whether government-sponsored encouragement of ‘screen time’ for young children is a good idea. However, Damian Hinds, the current education secretary, was keen to point out that there is “such a thing as good screen time”. Inappropriate or heavy social media exposure and app-based games designed for smartphones are a worry for modern parents.
Most games and social media are considered to be ‘distracting’ rather than educational. Young children spending too much time on them at the expense of ‘real life’ social interaction with peers and physical exercise and time spent outdoor is blamed for patterns of poor mental and physical health in younger generations. However, the DoE drive focuses on the fact that technology and access to the internet can also be, if well directed and managed, a big positive in the development and education of children.
A committee of eight experts has been appointed to select the EdTech apps to be licensed by the government for the programme. The move is a boost to the EdTech sector generally, which has stalled in recent years. Budget constraints faced by schools and local authorities limiting the number of technology licenses they are able to take on has played a significant role in the sector’s slightly disappointing recent development. Government endorsement will come as a welcome boost for the creators of the EdTech apps chosen to form part of the programme.
Studies show that children from low income families start school at an average developmental lag of four months compared to peers from wealthier households. Unfortunately starting school doesn’t see the gap close but widen. By 11, disadvantaged children fall to ten months behind developmentally and 19 months by the time they take their GCSEs. It is hoped that if access to EdTech apps helps close that initial gap for at least some children, that will then reflect throughout their cognitive development as they move through the education system.