Edtech platforms for infants, toddlers? Experts weigh in

The edtech platforms, short for education technology, have become quite popular and are widely used by children across the country for distance learning or digital learning as the Covid pandemic forced the authorities to close schools.

There are several companies and start-ups like BYJU’s, WhiteHat Jr, Unacademy, Class Plus, upGrad, Pesto, Vedantu, Edukart and many more that are used by school children and others for distance learning. Raising Superstars is the newest kid around to make headlines.

Raising Superstars came into the limelight through the corporate reality TV show Shark Tank. Shraddha and Raghav Himatsingka, the couple who started Raising Superstars, presented their idea to help children in the age group of 0-3 years through their digital platform. They claim that babies and toddlers can learn basic concepts without screen time in just five minutes a day through their platform.

While these edtech platforms have helped kids develop and learn various advanced skills and knowledge sets, experts weighed in on whether the saying “too much of anything is bad” is becoming too real too soon.

‘Desire for learning’

While many edtech platforms help develop the practical and theoretical knowledge of children of different age groups, those for infants and toddlers are rare, if not unheard of.

Raghav Himatsingka believes that this is the age when children should be introduced to the world of learning. “When a baby is born, they have the same number of neurons/brain cells as an adult – that’s 100 billion neurons – but these neurons are not connected to each other. As soon as they come into the world from the mother wound, they are hit by all kinds of different stimuli,” he explains.

“When it hits them, the brain cells in their brains all start connecting with each other very quickly. So these are all fast connections and are called synapses,” he adds.

He explains that all of these connections are weak and can be broken easily. But by the time these connections are formed, usually by the time they turn three, the baby’s brain is already 85 percent developed. At this age, the brain decides to shut down all the non-important connections and keep the important ones, he adds.

He claims that children have a desire to learn and whatever they learn at this age will stay with them for a long time.

While the creators of Raising Superstars claim that their platform is useful for babies and toddlers, several experts have expressed doubts about whether using technology and asking children to learn at such a young age is the right decision. They also believe that it is difficult to understand how the brain works and that therefore subjecting such young children to structured learning may not be the best approach.

“At such a young age, a child’s motor, visual and auditory perceptions are still mapped out in the brain. The child must develop all these sensory perceptions in a healthy way. Giving it only visual cues can hinder its overall development. It is healthier to provide a balanced sensory environment and allow children to discover the world around them,” said Roopkosh A, HOD, Early Childhood Education R&D, The Narayana Group.

Best medium?

Raghav says his platform doesn’t allow the kid to enjoy screen time at all and Raising Superstars content is available for parents to use. The platform offers five-minute lessons as instructions and ideas for parents, who can use it however they want without actually exposing their children to the screen, he adds.

He also says that there is no benchmarking or testing on their platform and the content is generated based on what the child shows interest in. Their content is individually tailored and is not the same for everyone every day, he claims. This helps the children gain knowledge and skills about something they enjoy, rather than what their parents want them to learn, Raghav explains.

Allan Andersen, director of the Chaman Bhartiya School, refutes this, saying: “Learning is an extremely complicated process. Every child has a different learning style through which they learn, retain and process information. Therefore, the right approach to a holistic development of assuring a child, recognizing his strengths and weaknesses, what is the methodology by which he best assimilates and adapts his learning accordingly. That is why I am not in favor of this quick fix ideology – it is not possible for a single teaching tool can develop a genius (digitally).

‘Hybrid model most effective’

dr. Anirban Chakraborti, dean of research and dean of the School of Engineering and Technology at BML Munjal University, says there is no need for children to receive this training at such a young age.

“The human brain is very complex and we don’t understand how the mind works. There are several faculties of the brain involved in the learning process. We don’t know the effects of this training on the different abilities of the brain, for example it can increase your curiosity, but it can also make you restless,” he said.

Some experts also believe that digital learning cannot be the only learning medium.

“There is a sudden wave of optimism across India that online learning can replace physical school. It is essential to understand that learning is a social activity. It is also crucial for the holistic development of the child. That is why we believe in a hybrid model of analog and social activities. We use technology as a critical tool for research and personalized learning. Especially in the early years, we believe that minimal use should be made of edtech platforms or apps,” says Andersen from Chaman Bhartiya School.

“In the current scenario, online platforms can be a replacement in remote villages. However, our experience is that a hybrid model that combines analog and digital is the most effective.”

Sajal Jain
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The Bihar Engineering