2011 marked the advent of a new curriculum for ECEC institutions in Sweden. The new curriculum gives subjects like mathematics, science and technology a far greater place in ECEC institutions. Notwithstanding, little was done to define what constitutes the subject of technology. Eight years on, and there is still no obvious answer to what ECEC teachers consider technology to be, or about how they approach this material.
According to the Swedish researcher Pernilla Sundqvist, ‘Research on the subject of technology and on teaching technology in ECEC institutions is still in its infancy. There are few studies about how ECEC employees view and work with technology in ECEC institutions, especially in Sweden. Accordingly, it is important to examine how the employees themselves define the task of teaching technology, and to discuss it in the light of what governance documents and research identify as relevant technology content for ECEC institutions’.
Along with her researcher colleague Tor Nilsson, she has examined which elements employees in Swedish ECEC institutions include in their work with technology. The two researchers sent a questionnaire to 10 per cent of all the ECEC institutions in one particular Swedish municipality. In it, they asked what employees believed to be included in the teaching of technology in ECEC institutions. The researchers also mentioned two objectives from the Swedish framework plan for ECEC institutions, and asked how the employees could achieve these objectives in actual practice:
- ECEC institutions are to ensure that children develop the ability to recognise technology in everyday life and learn to explore how simple technology works.
- ECEC institutions are to ensure that children develop the ability to build, create and construct using different techniques, materials and tools.
From zipper to tablet
The survey participants mentioned two main thematic categories in their responses: artefacts and building/creating. Artefacts are tools, instruments and other technological device.
‘The artefacts are simple, everyday objects like scissors, cutlery and digital tools that the children have to learn to use’, explains Sundqvist.
About 79 per cent of all the responses to the survey mentioned this category. Staff members work with technological devices in several ways. Half the respondents mentioned that they allow the children to use everything from zippers, scissors and water faucets to digital cameras and tablets. Several also stated that they wanted to help the children understand how the technology works. They accomplished this by taking objects apart to show the children what they look like inside, and how the various parts are connected.
Many of the respondents wanted the children to have access to many different building materials such as building blocks, Lego and recycled materials.
‘The respondents felt that access to a good variety of materials may inspire the children to create and build things’, Sundqvist adds.
Many respondents mentioned creative activities like drawing and painting. Several also wanted the children themselves to take the initiative for creative endeavours, and felt that these activities should take their point of departure in the children’s own ideas.
‘The artefacts are simple, everyday objects like scissors, cutlery and digital tools that the children have to learn to use.’
‘Only a few of the respondents mentioned play as a context for learning about technology. The researchers believe there may be several reasons for this. It might be that play is such an obvious and natural part of ECEC routines that it quite simply did not occur to the respondents to mention it. It is also possible that many respondents made a sharp distinction between play and learning. Perhaps they are of the opinion that play is controlled by the children, and that the adults should not disrupt play. All the same, the researchers had expected more people to mention learning through play. After all, this is one of the most important areas in which the preschool learning activities differ from learning at school’, continues Sundqvist.
Support and guidance
‘Only a few of the respondents mentioned employees’ role as guides to provide support in connection with play and learning. This may be because the researchers’ questionnaire did not ask about this role explicitly. However, if it is true that the ECEC teachers do not provide much support and guidance for children to learn about technology, this may be a problem’, Sundqvist suggests.
If the ECEC staff do not act as guides to help children to learn about technology, many learning opportunities may be lost. The children might be missing out on some of the technology content in the ECEC institution, and even on some of the material in the curriculum.
‘Over the past two decades, the focus at Swedish ECEC institutions has shifted more towards learning. For that reason, employees must more actively support and promote children’s learning and work with the subject areas in the curriculum’, she adds.
‘We cannot expect children to cover all of these areas on their own in addition to gaining more in-depth knowledge about them.’
Although not all the respondents identified investigation and exploration as important elements for children’s understanding of technology, Sundqvist is of the opinion that this is nonetheless a favourable finding: ‘It bears witness to both the respondents’ own expertise and their belief that the children are able to absorb this content.’
Sundqvist hopes the study will inspire ECEC employees to think about and develop their own efforts with technology. Sundqvist also hopes the study might provide information to the Swedish Ministry of Education about how ECEC personnel interpret the curriculum. In that way, it might help elevate technology learning in kindergartens to better harmonise with the intentions of the curriculum. ‘In fact, the children are not the only ones who need support and guidance. As for achieving the objectives in the curriculum, the adults in ECEC institutions also need help and support to improve their knowledge and expertise’, Sundqvist concludes.