Girls use a smartphone at a ballet studio in Moscow. Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

Even as some in Silicon Valley circles try to keep their kids away from smartphones and other technology, many others believe kids' exposure to devices is inevitable and our job is to make sure that they learn and stay healthy along the way.

Driving the news: At a conference in San Jose this week, experts in early childhood education compared notes on what is and isn't working in the field. The Early Futures conference brought together everyone from startups to established pioneers including representatives from Head Start and Sesame Workshop.

The bottom line: The consensus was that while technology for technology's sake was the wrong approach, so too is trying to stick to the old way of doing things.

"While there has been a lot of innovation, it is also clear we need new solutions."
— Isabelle Hau, event organizer and investment partner at Omidyar Network

What we're seeing: There were plenty of proposed solutions at the conference, including...

1. Genius Plaza, a Miami-based company that offers digital tools aimed to serve today's multicultural classrooms.

  • "Less than 2 percent of the content we put in our classrooms looks like our kids," Genius Plaza CEO Ana Roca Castro says.
  • Genius Plaza aims to change that by incorporating underrepresented groups throughout its curriculum and highlighting those working in fields like science, math and engineering.
  • "You cannot love what you don’t know," Castro adds.

2. Khan Academy Kids: Though best known for its online tools for older students and adults, Khan Academy has a 2-year-old effort geared toward offering free educational tools for the younger set.

3. Cognitive ToyBox aims to change the way early childhood assessments are done, transforming what has been a tedious task involving hours of work for teachers into an automated process where kids play games for as little as 5 minutes each.

  • This was one of the many startups that were invited to pitch the crowd on their early-stage efforts.

Between the lines: Sesame Workshop COO Steve Youngwood says it's not really a debate over whether kids will learn from smartphones but what they will learn.

  • The same arguments were made about television, he says, but kids were already learning the jingles to beer commercials when Sesame Street came around to teach them the alphabet.
  • Sesame has taken a similar approach in the digital age, Youngwood adds, offering everything from YouTube videos to mobile apps and harnessing the technology to deliver more targeted content than was possible in the television-only era.

Another topic discussed is that technology is needed to deal with the fact that there just aren't enough qualified teachers, especially globally.

  • Omidyar Network partner Amy Klement points to Bridge International Academies, which offers scripted lesson plans delivered to teachers on low-end Android tablets allowing teachers without formal training to deliver effective lesson plans.
  • Because it's digital, governments and districts can also see just how much of a lesson plan was delivered, she adds.
  • "This is data governments even in the U.S. don’t have," Klement says.

Go deeper

Updated 48 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Voters in Wisconsin, Michigan urged to return absentee ballots to drop boxes

Signs for Joe Biden are seen outside a home in Coon Valle, Wisconsin, on Oct. 3. Photo by KEREM YUCEL via Getty

Wisconsin Democrats and the Democratic attorney general of Michigan are urging voters to return absentee ballots to election clerks’ offices or drop boxes, warning that the USPS may not be able to deliver ballots by the Election Day deadline.

Driving the news: The Supreme Court rejected an effort by Wisconsin Democrats and civil rights groups to extend the state's deadline for counting absentee ballots to six days after Election Day, as long as they were postmarked by Nov. 3. In Michigan, absentee ballots must also be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted.

56 mins ago - Technology

Facebook warns of "perception hacks" undermining trust in democracy

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Facebook warned Tuesday that bad actors are increasingly taking to social media to create the false perception that they’ve pulled off major hacks of electoral systems or have otherwise seriously disrupted elections.

Why it matters: "Perception hacking," as Facebook calls it, can have dire consequences on people's faith in democracy, sowing distrust, division and confusion among the voters it targets.

Obama: Trump is "jealous of COVID's media coverage"

Former President Barack Obama launched a blistering attack on President Trump while campaigning for Joe Biden in Orlando on Tuesday, criticizing Trump for complaining about the pandemic as cases soar and joking that he's "jealous of COVID's media coverage."

Driving the news: Trump has baselessly accused the news media of only focusing on covering the coronavirus pandemic — which has killed over 226,000 Americans so far and is surging across the country once again — as a way to deter people from voting on Election Day and distract from other issues.