Digital-Kindergarten? – No!
YES to constructive educational investments
One third of all one-year-old children in the USA today use computers before they can walk or speak. In Germany 70% of 2- to 5-year-olds currently spend half an hour a day with a smartphone. The most commonly used application in Germany among 6-year-olds is Facebook. All pre-school age children watch television, often far more than an hour a day.
The prevailing attitude of many adults is that it is unavoidable or even useful for the child getting involved with digital technology at a very early age, especially since well-known politicians responsible for education impress the public with high investments in this area. Even more horrifying is the extent to which risks and side-effects of digital information technology on children are not taken into account. The younger the child, the more damaging these risks and side-effects are – due to the plasticity of the brain at this early age. The younger the child the more it is endangered by false stimulation and disruptive influences.
Figure 2: This is not an educational tool, but a dangerous contributor to motionless staring vitual impressions, false sensory stimulation and isolation from the real surroundings. This is also true for baby potties with iPad holders with should help using even the time sitting on the potty for “learning” Yet, such devices do not serve the purpose of “learning” but are hindering the child from having physical self-experience which is essential at this age.
For this reason, investments allowing and supporting healthy development make much more sense than investing in digital education – the earlier in age the more – as demonstrated in the following illustration. Thus, for example, finger games foster mathematical capacities and development of the frontal lobes of the brain, whereas tablet computers do not have this effect – because cognitive achievement is provided by areas of the brain that receive their signals from activated sensory and motor areas.
Fig. 4: Rate of return on investment in relation to age - kindergarten, school, professional life. The inverse relationship between age and learning speed, represented as decrease of return on investment by educational institutions over the lifetime of a person being educated (according to Heckman, 2006).
The curve indicates how much the learning speed decreases throughout a lifetime. Whoever plays the game "Memory" with a four-year-old can expeirence this. For this reason, those responsible for education want to take advantage of the learning capacitiy of the first three years for intensive learning - and also for the use of media. However, this does not lead to constructive investments in education, as shown by the following.
What are constructive education investments?
One of the most important results of brain research in recent years is the evidence that children best learn dexterity, walking, speaking and thinking through self-directed activity – by trial and error, free play and imitation in direct contact with others. A television program running in the background hinders language development as much as do electronic books that read themselves aloud to the child or its involvement with other digital media. The most important factors for the child's language and conceptual development are the dialogue with the child, as well as reading aloud to him and speaking about it afterwards – the more, the better. Upper-class-children at school entry have listened to 30 million more words than children from a lower class (Hart and Risley, 1995). Due to this their speech centers are better trained and thus they also have better chances at the beginning of their academic career.
In general one can say: brains do not download knowledge. On the contrary, brains develop by being used actively: When a child is observing, discovering, examining, listening, touching, smelling, tasting it develops compassion and sympathy as well as the capacitiy of thinking, speaking and acting. Every human self-determined activity is accompanied by constructive brain activity. And is at the same time the incentive for further development.
Unlike a computer which has modules for processing and storing information, in the brain processing and storing does not take place separately. When the brain processes information, the connections between the nerve cells change - and these same nerve cells store the information. The more a brain has processed, the more it has stored, and the better it can process information. The more languages a person speaks, the easier it becomes to learn a new language. The speech centers do not “fill up"; on the contrary, the more they already have stored, the more they are able to store! This characteristic of paradoxical storage is true for all human skills - the more musical instruments one can play, the more tools one is able to use, the more books one has read on a particular subject, the easier it is to learn to use another instrument or tool or read another book on the same subject.
For this reason it is so important to offer children and young people a broad education and especially to support sensory and motor skills. For nothing is more unsuitable for the training of sensory and motor brain regions than wiping or gliding again and again over a glass surface without any sensory differentiation.
Fig. 8: Fingers wiping or gliding over a non-characteristic surface does neither produce motor nor sensory learning. And since higher mental performance is accomplished by brain regions that receive their signals from sensory and motor areas, the children’s more complex thinking is deprived of its prerequisites by their fingers wiping over tablets.
Fig. 9: If one asks a four-year-old child to hold a needle, a pencil, a key, an egg, the handle of a bucket, or grip a pole, the child will spontaneously and automatically make the complex hand movements needed to adapt to the various weights, sizes, surface qualities of the objects – without any visible exertion. In doing so all the senses are involved.
The same is true for social competencies which are not trained by using a tablet but by personally interacting with other human beings – each of whom is unique and cannot be programmed.
Fig. 10: This photo shows not only self-directed activity of a child, but also the fact that an adult is perceiving the child with interest; which makes the child “feel good" and invites is to even more self-directed activity.
What are the negative consequences of using digital media too early in age?
Children who spend a lot of time in front of a screen and use digital media frequently show the following disturbances and limitations:
- Disturbances in language development and attention (Zimmerman et al. 2007)
- a noticeably lower level of education (Hancox et al. 2005)
- Tendency toward obesity (Hancox et al. 2004)
- Disposition - on the basis of anti-social behavior - toward criminal behavior (Robertson et al. 2013)
- The regular use of a game console was proved to cause bad grades in reading and writing as well as behavior problems in school (Weis & Cerankosky 2010).
- The more time young people spend in front of a screen, the less compassion (empathy) they show toward their parents and friends (Richards et al. 2010).
- The use of smartphones by young people results in lower levels of achievement in school, less satisfaction with life, and in an increase of depression (Lepp et al. 2014), attention disturbances (Zheng et al. 2014), short-sightedness, sleep disturbances and addictive behavior. In addition, more than 60% of smartphone users are afraid of missing something important, of being separated from their phones, and of not being connected to their network. These fears lead to even more excessive use, which can easily turn into addiction.
The effects listed above which are being observed day by day by parents, early childhood educators and teachers.are scientifically proven – whereas the positive effects of digital information technology on the emotional, spiritual or physical development of children.are not scientifically proven at all. In short: the damages have been proven, but not the usefulness!
This does not mean that we are against technology – our concern is to protect childhood as a space for development, for the sake of the children, the human rights of children, so that young people and adults can become competent users of technology – in its right place.
The good example of South Korea!
Pediatricians in the USA have been warning for years about the above-mentioned risks and side-effects. They demand to not let very small children use digital media and to expose older children much less to all media. South Korean education politicians have started acting according to these advices. South Korea is the first country where the government - already in 2015 - has begun to legally protect the younger generation from the worst effects of new technology.
Anyone younger than 19 who purchases a smartphone must have software installed that
(1) blocks access to violence and pornography,
(2) registers the daily usage and sends a report message to the parents, and
(3) interrupts the connection to games-servers after midnight.
This digitally most advanced country shows is aware of the importance of protecting the upcoming generations from the risks and side-effects of digital technology. South Korea has the most advanced digital infrastructure, producing the most smartphones in the world. Therefore already 90 % of all children between the ages of 10 and 19 are short-sighted, and more than 30 % of all children and youth are addicted to smartphones.
Do we want to wait until things are the same here in Europe?
We are all asked to get involved!
Neither can we leave health and education of the next generation – our future – nor the basic pillars of our free democratic society to economic interests of the richest companies in the world! Therefore we demand that our educational facilities, above all kindergartens, preschools and child care centers, must be kept free from the scientifically proven negative influences on our children! By demanding this we are doing nothing less than defending the fundamental values of our society against an overly powerful economic lobby. If we do not get involved, we are proving a lack of responsiblity toward the next generation, to whom we have already left a sufficient legacy of problems, including debt, conflicts, and a trash-filled planet.
each active participant in civil society, each expert, each institution that supports this call to action. The more we are, the better we can point out the importance of our position to politicians responsible for education. We will start with these actions in the first quarter of 2017.
With heartfelt wishes, in the hope that this call to action will serve the protection of childhood and the dignity of the child –
Prof. Dr. med. Dr. phil. Manfred Spitzer, Dr. med. Dr. hc. Michaela Glöckler, Dr. med. Silke Schwarz, Elisabeth von Kügelgen, Dagmar Scharfenberg, Beate Wohlgemuth, Oliver Langscheid, Michael Wetenkamp, Frank Linde, Johannes Stüttgen, Helga Kühl, Angelika Fried
and the 600 participants of the symposium "Right to Childhood" organised by the “Vereinigung der Waldorfkindergärten” (association of Waldorf kindergartens) on 19 November 2016 in Hanover.
Although the following petition was started by the German Federation of Waldorf Kindergartens, ELIANT will support similar initiatives in your country as soon as someone is willing to organize and promote it. In any case we are deeply grateful for your signature supporting this German petition.