Last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg spoke at the New Schools Venture Fund Summit, a major conference for education reformers, funders, and social entrepreneurs. And his comments there suggesting a desire to allow younger children to use Facebook have garnered considerable attention and controversy.
I actually asked Zuckerberg a follow-up question on this at the Summit (see minute 53:30 here), specifically around what he thinks quality educational technology and social networking experiences for preschool-aged children should/would look like (because his initial comments were framed in terms of the importance of education starting early). I didn’t get much of an answer. That’s understandable, given that Facebook does not currently attempt to serve very young children. But if Zuckerberg really wants to put aside some of the concerns and criticism that these comments sparked, he needs a better answer. And not just in terms of the safety of children’s use of social media (which is an important issue), but also in terms of the developmental appropriateness and educational value of what they do there.
Here are four questions that Zuckerberg needs to be able to answer:
Can social networking tools be deployed with young children in developmentally appropriate ways? What would that look like? You don't have to answer this question alone—lots of really smart people are actually doing good work on technology and little kids. But you probably do need to have some kind of answer. There's already no shortage of technology for kids. The iPhone ap store, for instance, has hundreds of aps for kids. Some of them are good, some of them are entertaining but have no educational value, and a lot are total crap. How could social networking tools help parents and educators to separate the gold from the dross and build demand to spur development of high-quality educational aps and games for kids? Note that one could work on doing this now, even with restrictions on kids' use of Facebook. As you referenced in your comments, children's social and emotional development are just as, or even more critical than, cognitive development. Could social networking be designed to support children's social and emotional development? Should we be concerned about the possibility that using social networking tools at a young age could actually undermine children's social-emotional development? How do we guard against that? You spoke passionately about the importance of education starting early (that's what started this whole conversation). But your investments in education to date have mostly focused on K-12 reform and not addressed preschool or other early learning. What are you going to do to help ensure that more preschool-aged children have quality early learning experiences?
The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.