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Research Questions

  1. Can early childhood education help address disparities in the access to and use of information and communication technology — a disparity known as the digital divide?
  2. Can information and communication technology help address early disparities in academic and "soft skills," such as motivation and socialization?
  3. What are the potential facilitators and barriers to successful implementation of information and communication technology in early childhood education?

Technology literacy plays an important role in a child's ability to succeed in school and later life. Yet, despite rapid growth in society's use of digital technology, many children in low-income families in the United States are not able to access and use technology in the same ways as their more-advantaged peers. This means they have fewer opportunities to learn, explore, and communicate digitally, and fewer chances to develop the workforce skills they will need to succeed in later life. Early childhood education can play a valuable role in ensuring that low-income children can access technology and learn how to use it. However, there are a number of important issues that need to be addressed. This Perspective frames a discussion on these subjects by exploring the role of early childhood education in bridging the digital divide. We highlight five key questions that need to be considered in the discussion of integrating technology into early childhood education.

Key Findings

Early Childhood Education Prepares Children for School and Provides an Opportunity to Address Disparities

  • Children who participate in early childhood education achieve better education and life outcomes, with the strongest impacts for children from low-income families.
  • Early childhood is an important time to build foundational skills in traditional academic areas, and may play a similar role for technology literacy.

Technology Literacy Opens the Door to Many of Life's Opportunities

  • Those who use technology in the workplace earn 14–27 percent more than those who do not, and projections indicate that much of the country's future job growth will be concentrated in areas that require use of information and communications technology on the job.

Technology Can Also Open the Door to New Learning Opportunities for Young Children

  • Studies have shown that ICT can build motor skills, socio-emotional skills, and cognitive skills, helping to reduce skill gaps in important foundational areas for disadvantaged young children.
  • However, there is debate over the impact of technology on young children, and many continue to feel that the role of technology should remain limited.

Supports Are Needed to Realize the Benefits of Technology in ECE

  • High-quality Internet connectivity, developmentally appropriate software, and smart and portable devices are helpful in supporting educational technology efforts, as well as family support.
  • Even if the most up-to-date software-device-connection combination is present, it may not be usable if there is no one to guide the child. The real value is derived from the presence of a high-quality knowledge facilitator.


We recommend exploring five questions as the integration of information and communication technology is considered for early childhood education:

  • What is the goal for information and communication technology in early childhood education?
  • How do we define appropriate use of technology in ECE?
  • Once defined, how do we support effective use through devices, connectivity, software, and other components of ICT infrastructure?
  • How do we ensure that ECE providers are prepared to address the digital divide?
  • What relationship should parents and families have to the integration of technology into ECE?

The research described in this report was conducted within RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation.

This commentary is part of the RAND expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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