Young children in Denmark are amongst the most frequent users of digital media and technology in Europe. For instance, it is estimated that 90% of children under the age of seven have access to a tablet computer in the home (DR). Also, digital technologies are widely distributed in early years educational settings (kindergartens, nurseries, and early years primary schools), but research shows that the use of them is quite varied. National policies underline the potentials of digital technologies when it comes to both general education and digital literacy, but the public as well as professional debate on the issue is ambiguous and dispersed.
In Denmark, early years educational settings (daycare) is legally founded on the so-called ‘Pædagogiske læreplan’ (En: Pedagogical curriculum) . The latest version (2018) presents six curriculum themes and a set of overall principles, among which play and the child’s perspective are important and prominent. Digital literacy was originally intended to be one of the overarching principles, but due to critical, public debate, this focus was eventually down-played in the final document, now being mentioned twice in relation to curriculum themes 5 and 6 (see note below).
Digital technologies in early years educational settings
Nevertheless, digital technologies are widespread and widely used in for instance kindergartens across the country. Most kindergartens use digital technologies for administrative purposes, and many include them in their pedagogical practices as well. A recent report from Aarhus University shows how digital technologies are being used for different pedagogical purposes and to support different processes, including play. The report also shows how this use is characterized by ambiguity and different attitudes from staff as well as from parents; attitudes which are to a wide extend informed by the often tense, public debate on children and media.
Despite the widespread distribution of digital technologies in both families and daycare settings, studies show how children have un-equal access to and use of digital technologies. Inequalities are related to socio-demographic factors, but also to gender. This means that boys tend to have a more diverse use of technology, and also that they more frequently use technology in a ‘behind-the-scenes’-way, where for instance they have tried to control a robot. Getting a sense of how digital technologies are designed and function (what is sometimes referred to as ‘computational thinking’) is considered to be an important part of digital literacy. Therefore, the early educational setting can and should play an important role in order to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, are introduced to digital technologies in ways, which strengthen their curiosity as well as their critical sense towards them.
Public debates and parenting paradoxes
Parents obviously play a significant role in young children’s digital lives. Most of children’s use of screen-based media take place in the family. But many parents are torn between their inclination to limit their child’s screen use and to make sure children are digitally literate. This parenting paradox is – as mentioned above – to a wide extent informed by advice given by experts, whether they are academic scholars or more self-established opinion formers. Pedagogues and teachers from early years educational settings could play an important role in relation to this as role-models and inspire parents to engage themselves in children’s digital lives.
Notes: Curriculum theme 5 – Nature, outdoor life and natural phenomena: ” Furthermore, children can find out about different technological tools such as GPS, digital scales, webcams, etc., allowing them to develop a creative, productive and critical approach to the use of such technologies.” and 6 – Culture, aesthetics and community: ”…children should be met with a differentiated pedagogical approach to allow everyone, including vulnerable children, to gain experience with realising their potential and navigating in society. As part of this, children could be allowed to use IT in an experimental community. Children should be supported in developing skills that make them creative and productive, and enable them to navigate in society in ethically responsible ways in relation to themselves and others.”
Editor’s note: Stine presented her work on the uses of digital media for pre-school children in Denmark in the webinar series “Media Education in the Nordic Countries: Lessons Learned from the Neighbours” organised by the NordMedia network on Wednesday 30 September, more information here.
Stine Liv Johansen
Associate Professor at Aarhus University and Head of the Danish Media Council for Children and Young People