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'App gap' creates new digital divide among young children

Tuesday, 14 November 2017


Researchers are concerned about a growing app gap where digital-savvy toddlers with access to educational apps may be more school-ready than their counterparts.

But rather than divided along class or socio-economic lines, this study shows that the gap may be due to some parents encouraging their young children to use educational apps, while others restrict their child’s screen time.

Research by Edith Cowan University’s (ECU’s) Dr Donell Holloway is exploring the consequence of the ‘app gap’ and how app-affluent children may be entering school with enhanced readiness in literacy, numeracy and technology skills.

Dr Holloway said children are using the internet and digital technologies at increasingly younger ages. It is now commonplace for babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers to use internet connected devices, especially touch screen tablets.

“Somewhere around the age of 10 to fourteen months a baby learns to point with his or her forefinger and is ready to tap and swipe a touchscreen,” Dr Holloway said.

What is the app gap?

Dr Holloway said the app gap is an emerging trend where some very young children are accessing quality educational apps at a greater rate than others. She said this is occurring because there are two conflicting conversations in the public domain regarding the usefulness of digital media to toddlers and pre-schoolers.

“Some parents have run with the idea portrayed in advertising about the educational value of apps. Our research found that parents who were allowing their children to use apps tried to give them not just entertainment but some educational value in their app diet,” she said.

“However, some parents felt guilty about allowing their young children to use apps because of the opposing argument relating to screen time, childhood obesity or lack of children’s physical and imaginative play.”

Enhancing children’s learning

Dr Holloway said her analysis found that parents can enhance their children’s learning by using educational apps with their very young children.

“Our analysis found that when parents co-use learning apps with their very young children, they add a layer of learning to the inbuilt tools that exist within the app to help navigate it.

“There are many good apps available that families can consider, for example Reading Eggs.  ABC Online also has some really great pre-reading and writing apps for young kids from about two years of age,” she said.

Dr Holloway, from ECU’s School of Arts and Humanities, presented her research paper ‘The app gap: Scaffolding early childhood learning through app use in the family home’ at Queensland University of Technology recently. It forms part of her Australian Discovery Grant Research Project ‘Toddlers and tablets: exploring the risks and benefits 0-5s face online’.


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