The Shift from a Traditional to a Digital Classroom: Hong Kong Kindergartens: The 2003 Annual Theme Issue of Childhood Education Focused on Educational Technology. Guest Editors Sudha Swaminathan and Nicola Yelland Located Too Many Excellent Articles on That Important Topic to Include in One Issue. Therefore, We Are Revisiting the Topic Here
Leung, Wai Man, Childhood Education
Parents and early childhood educators in Hong Kong have been enthusiastically supportive of including computer activities in programs for young children. However, the benefits of using computers as a tool for learning may be eroded by a number of socio-contextual factors. This article discusses some factors apparent in the Hong Kong context that may need to be addressed by early childhood educators.
In Hong Kong, preschool education is not included as part of the formal education system. Nevertheless, approximately 95 percent of children as young as 2 years of age attend either kindergarten or child care centers (Rao & Koong, 1999). It has been well documented elsewhere that the criteria parents use to select an early childhood program often reflect their own beliefs and priorities for their children's education (Rescorla, 1991; Stipek, Milburn, Galluzzo, & Daniles, 1992). Most kindergartens in Hong Kong are privately owned, and they operate in a highly competitive environment.
Today, young children are learning in innovative environments (Craig, 2000). Chinese parents expect their young children to learn with computers, and anecdotal evidence suggests that they are eager to enroll their children in kindergartens that provide computer activities. Principals are aware of these parental expectations, which has led to a rapid increase in the numbers of kindergartens providing computer activities. However, this practice has given rise to some concerns. The author believes that early childhood educators and parents need to rethink the rationale underpinning the use of computers with young children. In particular, they need to consider whether computer activities are in the best interests of parents, kindergartens, or young children. In order to do so, early childhood teachers and parents must understand how children's learning with information technology occurs, as well as the factors that maximize the benefits of such learning experiences.
Sociohistorical Factors and Computer Activities in Kindergartens
Since the late 1980s, most private kindergartens in Hong Kong have lacked government funding and have been able to afford only older, less powerful computers (Lui, 1997). The kindergartens also have lacked printers, scanners, or cameras with which to enrich children's computer-based activities. Some kindergartens had only a few computers in a computer room, which were shared by the children for 15 to 20 minutes at a time in small-group activities, once a week. And some kindergartens had only one computer, which was located in a computer corner for children's exploration during free-choice activities (Han, 1997).
The role of technology in education has been controversial since the advent of educational television, teaching machines, and computer-assisted instruction. In the late 1990s, education reform in Hong Kong began to focus on advancing the use of technology in teaching. Following a review of the nine-year compulsory education in Hong Kong for the use of information technology in school, the Hong Kong Education Commission (1999) determined a direction for future development, specifically:
[Section 10.20.] Information technology is a way of life today. It is foreseen that a wider use of information technology would become a regular feature in our schools to improve effectiveness of teaching and learning. It will become a part of our school system, although teachers in no way can be replaced.
[10.21.] Information technology facilitates pupils' self-learning, helping to reduce individual differences. It is suggested that the Government should continue to strengthen resources and technical support in promoting the use of information technology in school.
This report led Hong Kong policymakers to finance projects concerning technology and education. Although pre-primary education is not included in the basic education schema, some pre-primary sectors applied for funds to implement information technology (IT) in their schools. …