US experts call for relationship-based programs and universal access
This week, more than 100 USA early childhood professors, researchers, allied health professionals and policy makers have released a statement in opposition to online preschool programs, urging states to invest in relationship-based programs, which provide universal access to a preschool education for children.
The statement was jointly published by Defending the Early Years (DEY) and Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC), and outlines the potential danger in offering an online preschool environment for children, citing the American Academy of Pediatrics concerns about young children’s exposure to screen time.
Concerns were also raised in the statement about data mining being aimed at young children and their families, and concerns about the money saving implications of online preschool, stating that such programs save money for states in the short term, but threaten resources for high-quality traditional preschool programs.
“Early learning is not a product. It is a process of social and relational interactions that are fundamental to children’s later development. Asserting that this process can take place online, without human contact, falsely implies that the needs of children and families can be met with inexpensive, screen-based alternatives.”
According to the statement, children who do not have access to high-quality preschool programs are often the target market for online programs, and these children already face a higher risk of academic difficulty than their peers. The statement warns of the danger of these programs, stating they will expand, not close, the achievement gap.
Utah, who as a state have not invested in a public preschool program, was the first state to sponsor an ‘online preschool’, called UPSTART. Since then, the company has expanded pilot programs to at least seven other states, including Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania– and new companies are entering the market.
The statement highlights a research base which shows that screen overuse puts young children at risk of behavior problems, sleep deprivation, delays in social emotional development, and obesity. Further, the research shows that extended time on screens diminishes time spent on essential early learning experiences such as lap-reading, creative play, and other social forms of learning.
Highlighting the value of relationship and human interaction, the authors of the statement noted that relational learning requires healthy interactions with adults, and online experiences falsely marketed as ‘preschool’ sabotage the development of these essential relationships.
The conclusion of the statement leaves no doubt as to the position of the authors: “Early learning is not a product. It is a process of social and relational interactions that are fundamental to children’s later development. Asserting that this process can take place online, without human contact, falsely implies that the needs of children and families can be met with inexpensive, screen-based alternatives.”