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Technology, when used smartly, can enhance learning, problem solving skills, and provide opportunities for group-related activities or collaboration with peers and adults Image Credit: Shutterstock

They are the first generation to reach adulthood in this millennium, and they are now gradually morphing into the role of young parents.

Better known as the millennials, these digital natives come with a different set of expectations, transforming the early childhood education landscape.

“Millennial parents appreciate how nurseries use innovative learning tools, creatively blending the fun element into teaching,” says Dr Vandana Gandhi, Founder and CEO of British Orchard Nursery (BON), which uses smart boards, educational software, iPads, apps and artificial intelligence (AI) to empower children with skills related to STEM-based learning.

Elsewhere, the classrooms at Yellow Brick Road Nursery and Crystal Valley Nursery are equipped with interactive learning boards, laptops, cameras, microscopes, projectors, light reflecting tables and other aids.

Bernadette King-Turner, Founding Partner & Managing Director, describes her nurseries as ‘IT cool’, which are in sync with what millennial parents expect. Similarly, to enhance learning, Ora has deployed push-button toys, walkie-talkies, bee-bots, apps and augmented reality story books.

Technology and learning outcomes

But do these cool gadgets in nurseries really help? This has been a hotly debated topic — a policy brief from the US Department of Education even warns against the use of any technology for children under the age of two. And for older children, it recommends that technology should only be used for learning and meeting developmental objectives.

Katrina Mankani, Managing Director, Jumeirah International Nurseries, insists that the early years should be as gadget-free as possible. She points out that the core areas of development for the preschoolers are the advancement of personal, social, emotional and physical skills, as well as language development.

“How can gadgets, AR and VR contribute to the above skills? Progress in all these areas depends on preschoolers’ environment and people who surround them,” she says.

Rawan Al-Jayyousi, General Manager, Ora, concurs, observing that as early years educators, it is important that technology doesn’t overshadow other important areas of learning. She, however, adds, “When used smartly and age appropriately, technology can enhance learning, problem solving skills, and provide opportunities for group-related activities or collaboration with peers and adults. And yes, it can boost creativity by allowing children to create content such as digital art or music.”

She offers the example of AR story books like My Very Hungry Caterpillar and Daring Dinos, which are highly popular among the nursery’s three-year-olds. “Both apps focus on bringing children’s favourite story books and characters to life while also allowing them to interact and learn about cause and effect.”

And it is not just children, but also teachers who are benefiting from tech in nurseries. Mankani notes early years practitioners can now collect and process more data on students’ progress by using apps and algorithms.

This, as Gandhi adds, allows the nursery to personalise learning portfolios for each child.

“This helps us to cater to every child’s development and ensure that each child blossoms and blooms when she goes to big school,” she says.

The UAE, a unique market

The use of technology to personalise teaching will undoubtedly play an important role in the UAE. Nursery education has to take into account the fact that the UAE is — as Karan Brown, Director, KBBO Education, observes — home to an incredible variety of nationalities, and the perfect setting for students to learn about different cultures, diversity and build acceptance, tolerance and empathy.

“The importance and interest in early childhood education has never been this strong,” she says.

King-Turner agrees, describing Dubai as a “city that is inviting and tolerant to everyone”. This has resulted in nurseries becoming thriving multicultural centres for both staff and children.

And as Mankani says, “Where else in the world can one find nurseries of so many world renowned curricula and homegrown methodologies, and bilingual and even trilingual nurseries?

“Dubai has something for every parent and every budget.”

From early coders to tech billionaires?

At KBBO Education’s Bright Kids Nursery (BKN), you will come across tiny tots getting an early start at software programming. In association with LEGO Education, the nursery has developed age-appropriate fun ways of coding through a specially designed programme called Coding @ 2.

“Technology is high on the agenda and BKN has made significant progress in encouraging children to become active rather than passive users of technology,” says Karan Brown (in picture), Director, KBBO Education. In line with the objectives of the UAE Centennial 2071, her nursery’s strategies involve equipping children with the skills and knowledge they need for the future.

“Since the nursery curriculum lays the foundation for learning and sets the tone for the student’s academic life, we aim to build skills that will make children lifelong learners.”

— D.K.