As part of a five-year, nearly $11 million grant to the University of California, Irvine, the Jacobs Foundation has awarded $325,000 over three years to UC Berkeley School of Information professors Morgan G. Ames and Jenna Burrell to study the growing inequalities in children’s digital access around the world. The grant, Connecting the EdTech Research EcoSystem (CERES), will bring together global leaders in computer science, psychology, neuroscience, education and educational technology to help tailor digital technologies for children.
“We are fortunate to have two excellent co-PIs, Jenna Burrell and Morgan Ames, at UC Berkeley who both have extensive experience working with technology for kids in a truly global context,” says Gillian Hayes, UC Irvine vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate Division, who will head CERES along with Candice Odgers, UC Irvine professor of psychological science. “The Berkeley team’s expertise in inequality in both childhood and technology includes some of the world’s best known authorities in developmental psychology, information science, and ethics.”
Ames and Burrell, along with I School Ph.D. candidate Elizabeth Resor, will join dozens of other researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Research and Information in Education, the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, the University of Cambridge, the University of Washington, and Canada’s Western University. Together, the research network will work to identify interventions that would improve young people’s learning and future lives.
“It is an honor for us to join the CERES network and to continue to research and advocate for the lived experiences of children around the world, both online and off,” says Ames, whose book The Charisma Machine: The Life, Death, and Legacy of One Laptop per Child (MIT Press, 2019) explores the fraught history, results, and legacy of MIT’s One Laptop per Child project, a previous high-profile foray into overhauling digital education worldwide. “This grant comes at a crucial time, when we are well-positioned to reimagine learning not around unrealistic techno-utopianism but around the situated lives of children, their families, and their communities.”
Growing up in a digital age
Digital experiences had become a common part of how children learn, play, and socialize well before the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, youngsters worldwide were moved almost overnight out of their classrooms and into online spaces to learn and socialize—and deep inequities in digital access and belonging suddenly became all the more consequential in children’s lives.
Now, even as school doors have begun to reopen and children reunite with teachers and friends, most children will continue to at least partially learn and socialize online. Young people represent 1 in 3 users of the internet globally; yet, online spaces and tools are often not designed to offer kids the types of support and opportunities for learning and connection that they need.
The CERES network will place children and evidence at the center of the digital equations so critical in predicting their success. “Now more than ever, we need to marshal the brightest minds and best science to support children who are growing up in an increasingly digital and unequal age,” says CERES co-lead Candice Rogers. “We are grateful for the Jacobs Foundation’s many investments in improving the lives of children and for the opportunity to direct this initiative here at UCI.”
Headquartered in Zurich, the Jacobs Foundation is one of the world’s leading foundations in the field of child and youth development. With its Strategy 2030 campaign, the Jacobs Foundation has committed more than $545 million to advancing learning and education around the globe over the next 10 years. CERES is one of three educational technology initiatives the foundation hopes will change the fortunes of children by leveraging new technologies and improving the digital world.