Is Online Preschool the Future of Education?
This internet program was made available to thousands of Utah's young children. The Obama government provided more than $11 million in funding through its Investing in Innovation grant program.
And now, Waterford UPSTART, an educational software program whose creators claim it can help children prepare for kindergarten through 75 minutes of online learning each week, like an online preschool, has received one of its largest funding infusions—a funding infusion from a philanthropic effort organized by the same group that puts on "TED Talks."
The Audacious Project has provided fund infusions to eight organizations, including UPSTART. The Audacious Project, now in its second year and housed at TED, raised $280 million to distribute among this year's grantees, though it did not disclose how much each individual grantee received. The winners were announced on April 16.
UPSTART—which stands for "Utah Preparing Students Today for a Rewarding Tomorrow," but it is already utilized in many other states—plans to use this funding to expand its program to all 50 states, according to Andy Myers, chief operating officer at the Waterford Institute in Salt Lake City. Its main focus will be on providing assistance to children who would not be able to access a regular preschool program in the year before they enter kindergarten.
"We realize how tough and distinguished The Audacious Project is," Myers added, noting that this year's grant received 1,500 applications. "Really smart people trying to make a difference in the world," the funders say.
UPSTART has received harsh criticism as it has expanded to serve more children (North Carolina is contemplating sponsoring UPSTART as an option for children on a waiting list for its state-run preschool program). Some early-childhood supporters believe it is an effort to give a low-cost option that cannot deliver the deeper enrichment and social connection that a high-quality early-childhood program provides.
UPSTART also contradicts advice that young children restrict their time spent in front of devices, according to opponents.
""What we're concerned about is that sponsoring this online preschool initiative would undercut attempts to identify what is truly helpful and required for early children," Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, co-director of the charity Defending the Early Years, said. "We don't want people to think this [access] problem has been handled." Before the awards were announced, Defending the Early Years and other organizations wrote to The Audacious Project, encouraging it to reconsider its choice.
UPSTART, according to Myers, is not an online preschool. It is, instead, a kindergarten preparedness program. In certain areas, the program has been utilized to supplement traditional preschool programs such as Head Start.
"People are unaware that we support and would want to see universal preschool." We encourage and enjoy seeing youngsters have the opportunity to play. "On those two things, we truly don't differ," he remarked. However, not everyone has access to a high-quality preschool program.
"We have something we know works," Myers explained. "It just doesn't make sense to us not to make that available to families that have no other option."