The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Preschool Education
Artificial Intelligence is changing humanity and our daily lives in countless ways many people aren’t even aware of yet.
Without a doubt, the educational system must begin to prepare children for the future, and certainly that includes preschoolers. However, with all the talk of how much children need to learn to use computers and smart devices, and how to program software applications, it’s vital to remain in touch with the basics.
AI Cannot Short-Circuit Their Neurological Development
Research is discovering that small children can learn a lot more than previously thought. However, they must still learn. The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget laid a strong foundation for describing the stages children go through while learning, from day-old babies on. Since his death other childhood psychologists have developed, refined and argued about his work, but there’s no doubt children are not born ready to navigate the Internet. Short of extreme genetic modifications, they never will be.
They are born with an inner drive to explore and master their environment. Their tools are their physical bodies, including all five senses. They need to look and touch and taste and listen. They need to interact with the world and learn from the feedback. Adults sees a baby crawling on the floor and fear the dirt, but, by watching their hands, the baby is developing their hand and eye coordination.
No tablet, no VR in current development, can match that neurosensory input.
They Must Learn to Bridge From Concrete Experience to Abstract Concepts
They must also learn to absorb certain concepts and match them up to the symbolic processes they are also learning: language and numbers.
For instance, up to a certain age, children cannot separate abstract value from physical attributes. They believe a nickel is worth more than a dime because it’s larger. It takes time and experience for them to learn that a dime can buy twice as much as a nickel.
Preschool education will be about more than singing the alphabet song and learning their numbers, but they must still learn the alphabet and numbers.
Learning how to work with smart tablets is fine, but a skill that’s only temporarily important, because the hardware will continue to develop and advance.
Young Children Still Need Safety and Security
Although driven to explore and ignorant of the world’s many threats to their health, children do have an innate sense of their vulnerability. Babies are born with only two fears, of loud noises and falling. However, it’s natural as they grow for children to develop more fears.
This puts parents into a bind. Concerned mothers and fathers don’t want to raise fearful children, but they also don’t want them to learn about the dangers of fire by jumping into the flames. They need to instill caution and respect so the kids avoid dangerous activities such as touching hot stove burners and playing in the middle of the street, and without traumatizing and paralyzing them with terror.
They Need Reassurance
Children fear abandonment and the loss of love. They realize they need an adult to provide shelter, food and other basic needs.
They learn the basics of human interactions and relationships from their parents and other family members. AI cannot substitute for this, and, although it seems just being human, it’s important for their future careers.
The Importance of Empathy
After AI takes all the data-crunching jobs, jobs requiring human interaction, leadership and empathy will remain. Bonding to others and getting them to bond with you, networking, will be a vital career skill. Preschool children don’t need a LinkedIn profile, but someday they will. And the lessons they learn about other people during active classroom sessions and on the playground are the beginning.
Idea Gut Checks
Another way that understanding the general viewpoints of people will benefit people who plan to thrive in the future is intuitively grasping the value of ideas.
According to such commentators such as James Altucher, voted one of the most influential people on Linked-In, the currency of the future will be ideas. We are not in a knowledge or skills economy. Facts are just a Google search away. Anybody can outsource tasks requiring technical skills to experts on Fiverr for $5.50. What’s important are ideas.
It’s not that AI can’t come up with ideas. Many “new” ideas are simply combinations of old ideas. AI can easily select random data and combine it, coming up with thousands of new “ideas,” but it can’t evaluate what will appeal to people.
An AI program could come up with the idea to combine British public school tales, contemporary fantasy, witches, humor, magical creatures, a coming of age story, disguised criticisms of racism and exploitation of laborers, the anger everybody has felt over unfair teachers and the updating of witches’ brooms to vacuum cleaners. It took J.K. Rowling to realize how those elements could be combined in a way to appeal to many people as the Harry Potter series.
Teachers Come Second, After Parents
However, most parents cannot remain with their children around the clock. And they are not professionally trained to monitor and guide children. Therefore, the second member of an effective partnership for preschool education is a teacher. Also, they can interact with the child as another human being. They can observe and meet the child’s physical and emotional needs as well.
AI Comes Next
Of course preschool children also need experience online and with computers in general. They must learn to feel comfortable interacting with images and sounds, and people who are far away.
However, it must happen with their developing symbolic skills or they risk remaining at a low level of technological skill development. They’re like so many adults who can upload kitten videos to Facebook, write a letter with Microsoft Word and send a text message, but don’t even know how to format a hypertext link.
Playing games, taking selfies and listening to stories are fine, but children must also start learning that computers contain more knowledge than they can ever memorize.
They must learn to work with knowledge. That is, figure out what they need to learn to do what they wish, and they how to get it, for as long as they need it.
An AI avatar will work with them. It will answer their questions, deduce their shortcomings, and guide them to learn how to manipulate entire fields of knowledge.
The data itself will change. It’s always changing. What they learn today will be out of date tomorrow. They have to learn how to keep learning, without attachment to the data, only to the result.
Their personal AI avatar will grow with them from early childhood on, learning and re-learning how to communicate with them as their verbal skills and vocabulary grow and their intellectual needs. It will also be able to observe and evaluate their emotional states of mind, from temper tantrums to excitement, and notify parents, teachers and other caretakers when needed, such as when they exhibit symptoms of emotional or physical difficulties.
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