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Research Questions

  1. Once defined, how do we support developmentally appropriate technology use in early childhood education through devices, software, connectivity, and other components of technology infrastructure?
  2. What is a technology infrastructure and why does it matter?
  3. What standards of performance should a technology infrastructure meet?
  4. Which stakeholders are best positioned to address the gaps across various components of technology infrastructure?

To realize the potential benefits of technology use in early childhood education (ECE), and to ensure that technology can help to address the digital divide, providers, families of young children, and young children themselves must have access to an adequate technology infrastructure. The goals for technology use in ECE that a technology infrastructure should support are to improve learning and to build digital literacy. Identifying specific requirements for this infrastructure of devices, software, and connectivity is neither a straightforward nor an easy undertaking, because many factors — such as the absence of agreed standards of performance for technology infrastructure and the rapid pace of technology development — make an "adequate infrastructure" a moving target. In this policy brief, the authors identify challenges and examine how a wide variety of government and nongovernmental stakeholders might collaborate to define what constitutes an adequate technology architecture, and to help ensure that it is realized.

Key Findings

A Technology Infrastructure Includes Three Components

  • Devices provide the physical interface that connects users with both locally stored software and information and services available on the Internet and other remote data sources.
  • Software is the set of computer programs that both make devices functional and provide applications for different functions, such as gaming and word processing.
  • Connectivity, whether wired or wireless, allows users, via devices, to access the information and services available on the Internet.

Several Factors Make It Difficult to Identify Adequate Devices

  • There is considerable uncertainty about the standards of performance for technology infrastructure.
  • The digital divide makes it difficult to ensure that children from underprivileged families will access adequate connectivity and the most useful devices and software.
  • Many devices are on the market, and each device has many iterations and brands that differ slightly and offer different features.
  • Software is a rapidly expanding market, with thousands of new applications and upgrades released every month.
  • Connectivity presents relatively few challenges, aside from cost and bandwidth availability.

Stakeholders Should Play to Their Strengths in Meeting Challenges

  • One way to determine appropriate roles for each stakeholder is to identify discrepancies in the access and use of technology between children in low-income families and their more-advantaged peers that are likely to persist, and assess the capacity of different stakeholders to address these discrepancies.

Recommendations

  • The government could set infrastructure standards, and might have a role to play in making connectivity affordable.
  • Researchers, supported by foundations, and working closely with device developers, are the stakeholders best positioned to identify the affordances and features of appropriate needed devices.
  • Software challenges should be addressed by an agglomeration of stakeholders: Governments and nonprofit funding bodies, such as private foundations, could consider and rate the content of software in the context of identifying effective curricula and practices; software designers and ECE providers should collaborate directly in the development of applications.
  • Government agencies may be well-positioned to help address discrepancies in availability and cost of connectivity.

This project was conducted within RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation.

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