New media revolutionizes children’s education

By LI QI and MA LIXIN / 06-16-2020 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)

 A boy studies online with his sister by his side. With the emergence of various new media, the ways contemporary children live, learn and communicate have been revolutionized. Photo: CHINA DAILY

As early as the 1980s, renowned American media theorist and educator Neil Postman had raised concern over “the disappearance of childhood.” In the contemporary age, an information environment featuring the mobile internet has encompassed children’s lives since birth. Media has become ubiquitous.

With the emergence of new media, the ways contemporary children live, learn and communicate have been revolutionized. From traditional picture books and educational toys to the internet, tablet computers and smart phones, new media has changed children’s cognitive and thinking models on both the micro and macro levels, influencing the entire childhood culture and our view on childhood.

The close relationship between children and media has extended our understanding of childhood from physiological and psychological childhood to media childhood. Media childhood is by no means simply about the fusion of children’s psychology and cognition with the changing media environment. It has displayed features such as independence, relative fairness, decentralization, virtuality and interaction among multiple parties, fueling the transformation of contemporary children’s education.


Enriching childhood
In childhood, learning and life are inseparable from games. As media technologies progress, games and learning in actual life have been transferred to media.

First, scenarios of games for children have been virtualized and digitized. While we mourn the disappearance of fun from such traditional games as playing house for children today, kids are now roaming the cyberspace, enjoying lively videos, lifelike scenes of virtual reality (VR) and immersive interaction. Through media games, children’s horizons have been expanded to a great extent. Not only is information transmitted beyond time and space, but they have obtained much broader and deeper experiences.

Moreover, many apps have appropriately blended games into children’s life and learning, and thus have been well received by preschool children and their families. For example, apps dedicated to early childhood education have such sections as games, entertainment and learning. They can lead children to take part in interesting stories in the form of games, enable them to shuttle back and forth between real life and the fairy tale world, and give them a taste of childhood themes like friendship, bravery and kindness. Furthermore, these apps take the cognitive characteristics of different age groups into consideration, pooling knowledge about English, literacy, mathematics and daily habits to spark children’s curiosity and learning interest.

In classroom education, modern media technologies have been introduced and applied to regular curricula and teaching practices, reforming the mechanical, monotonous preaching model and depressing learning atmosphere. Exposed to a diversified and proper cultural system, children can grow up happily and feel fulfilled intellectually.

Take the latest VR technology as an example. By making learning content visualized, three-dimensional and experience-based with strong immersion and interactivity, VR offers students a different learning process from planar videos and pictures. Many difficult problems in the teaching of some subjects can be easily solved. For example, the cardiac structure in biology can be presented by means of VR to inspire students to explore and learn autonomously. Through virtual field investigations, VR can send students to faraway lands and even places that humans are unable to directly observe, thereby supporting their active explorations. Therefore, when the technological rationality culture of the adult society has gradually eroded the boundary between children and adults, content producers’ creation of more innocent and imaginative media content is the biggest contribution to “media childhood.”


Significance of paper media
Reading is an important part of childhood. In the new media environment, children are endowed with richer reading resources and more flexible, diverse ways to read. A variety of enlightening gadgets, story-telling machines and reading-company robots have provided children with multitudinous stories and fairy tales that used to be told by parents.

With the help of the internet, they can read more kinds and greater numbers of books concerning science, literature, poetry and other areas, on varied terminals. Books and characters, sounds and pictures, and games and competitions can all be related to reading. “Reading books” has evolved to “listening to books” and “reading screens,” even to “playing with books.” This has substantially broadened children’s reading horizons and strengthened their cognitive and aesthetic appreciation abilities.

In the new reading model, many reading apps are trying to mobilize young readers to interact with content using sight, hearing, smell and touch, coupled with colorful entertainment and game functions, in an effort to improve their personalized reading experience. Many apps popular among children, such as Reading Together and Ipalfish, have played a significant role in parent-child reading, the dissemination of classics and English learning.

However, reading via digitized media is fragmented. It is obviously inadequate for cultivating children’s deep reading abilities and improving their comprehension and critical thinking. What’s worse, the absence of adult intervention and guidance aggravates the side effects of fragmented reading.

Only through both deep and fragmented reading can children’s ability to think be enhanced. Hence a harmonious media ecosystem for children should be centered on printed classics to balance deep and fragmented reading. Paper media should provide nourishing classic content, while other media should strive to arouse children’s interest in classics and draw their attention back to classics.


Media education essential
Due to new media, the information children receive has turned from real to virtual. And the direct reception of fragmented content has reshaped the ways they deconstruct and reconstruct information.

Furthermore, omnipresent commercials, adult discourse and songs on sundry media are gradually blurring the boundary between adults’ and children’s culture. A lack of differentiation of information has weakened the uniqueness of the children’s information world and turned children into “little adults.” This is also what Postman worried about: the disappearance of childhood.
At the same time, we should recognize that children are individuals with self-consciousness.

Growing up together with all sorts of media, they are no longer a disadvantaged group. Rather, they are capable of actively building a new knowledge system to adapt to the social environment, even becoming new subjects who can lead future media forms. They represent a new generation in future communication.

In the face of challenges posed by new media to childhood, we should carry out media literacy education aimed at creation and communication. Only when children understand media features more comprehensively, have their own platforms and know how to make their voice heard can the mystery of media be unveiled and can children derive a sense of achievement, thus growing up healthily in the media environment.

Moreover, media literary education for different fields should be leveraged to maintain a healthy childhood culture. On the one hand, proper guidance is needed to direct children’s interest to paper media and traditional reading. On the other, equal dialogue, active discussion and hands-on participation are needed to stimulate children’s deep thinking and self-consciousness. Timely and effective media education will be a basis for guiding children to distinguish rationally, think fully and channel the positive energy of media.

Parents’ own self-discipline is also important in setting a good example on the side of family life. Meanwhile, specialized media literacy courses in schools and a bright media space fostered by the whole of society will help guarantee a healthy childhood culture.


Li Qi and Ma Lixin are from the School of Journalism and Communication at Shandong Normal University.


edited by CHEN MIRONG