This article presents a critical assessment from the standpoint of early childhood literacy of Britain’s ambitious and costly on-line learning resource, the National Grid for Learning. It provides an overview of the aims, scope and administration of the Grid, together with typical examples of content available for users in the early childhood age range (0–8 years).The authors argue that the Grid is headed in an unfortunate and counterproductive direction so far as young learners are concerned.The argument claims that in its current form the Grid is likely to generate boredom among young people in terms of Grid-promoted on-line literacy practices, and to foster mislearningof important new forms of literacy, such as email and interactivity. Furthermore, Grid activities and approaches dumb down literacy acquisition, particularly acquisition of ‘new literacies’, and impede development of personal responsibility for on-line actions. The authors claim that a major change in mindset will be necessary to reform the Grid in ways that are compatible with the official policy goals and aspirations behind its development. Examples are provided of more productive alternatives, together with concepts, principles and data supporting the judgments and suggestions advanced.
Against the background of Michael Kamil and Sam Intrator’s landmark reviews of research about new technologies and literacy development, this article maps recent research concerned specifically with the 0–8 years age group. Drawing on databases of research conducted in North America, Britain and Australasia, it affirms that the early childhood dimension is even more radically underresearched than other age ranges with respect to new technologies and literacy development. The authors develop an analytic framework comprising four quadrants to categorize the various studies conducted in the early childhood age range, and assign these to their appropriate quadrants. This reveals a lopsided distribution of the meagre corpus of studies available. The article provides a map of the field against which early childhood educators can judge ‘at a glance’ how far their personal areas of interest are served by existing research. It simultaneously pinpoints areas where new research is needed to fill important gaps.