30 Million Words: Early Childhood Education in Detroit
December 1, 2013
Digital media and learning research explores digital media as a disruptive force in learning, emphasizing the learners’ interests, new forms of assessment and certification, and social learning. It challenges the business models of publishing, advertising and other sectors facing the decline of mass media. It is relevant to formal learning in schools, personal interest, and lifelong learning. Students explore ambiguous topics related to design and formulate logical examples and cases that help build the body of knowledge of the field.
The team’s proposition to the big, fuzzy problem of early childhood education was to leverage an existing network of “super user” moms to not only prepare their children for success in school, but also expand their own opportunities in life. With the addition of simplified forms and a social venture incubator, they reframed the problem to offer innovative solutions to United Way’s approach to the 30 Million Words challenge.
Historically, communities were self-sufficient in helping individuals to succeed: from assisting neighbors with plowing and harvest to erecting homes for newlywed couples. With the growth of philanthropic organizations like United Way, the hands required to build healthy communities have become institutionalized.
Philanthropies seek donations from citizens and perform the large acts of community building by managing formal networks of stakeholders. In Detroit, we met people that were hungry to get involved and collaborate in a meaningful way, not just with their check books.
The United Way of South Eastern Michigan has made a big goal of having all the children in Detroit who were born in 2012 graduate from high school college ready in 2030. The first step, having those children hear 30 million words before they are three years old, is a goal entangled in a knot of social issues: lack of basic resources, getting children around barriers school enrollment, and building resources for parents so that they may be in the position to read and speak those 30 million positive, encouraging words. When the team visited early learning centers, they met mothers who despite poverty, language barriers and their own underprivileged upbringings, wanted the best future for their children. However, we also learned that awareness of ELC programs was very low and that the United Way volunteer efforts to recruit new mothers to attend free ELC classes have been ineffective.
Closing the 30 million words gap for the children of Detroit could be diagnosed as a huge, tangled problem where great resources will be necessary to treat the social issue for years.
Proposed User Experience
The research team sees 30 Million Words as a program not just about reading. It is about nurturing good parenting instincts and creating great parenting communities to help each other, to find resources, and to even make opportunities for those parents to become the caregivers, teachers, and entrepreneurs that will drive Detroit into its bright, academic future.