Abu Dhabi’s inaugural WED Forum discusses children and tech

Published March 28, 2022

Technology and the early years was the theme of the inaugural World Early Childhood Development (WED) Forum held over two days at Yas Island, Abu Dhabi in March 2022.

The Bernard van Leer Foundation is among the partners of the WED Movement, which was established by Abu Dhabi’s Early Childhood Authority and aims to promote networking and innovative thinking to achieve the Abu Dhabi 2035 vision for the early years.

Photo: Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority (ECA)

In a keynote speech Cecilia Vaca Jones, the Foundation’s Executive Director, explained how public spaces can be designed to better meet the needs of babies, toddlers and caregivers, incorporating elements of nature and facilitating positive interactions.

We brought an updated version of our Urban95 virtual reality experience – developed in partnership with Arup – to the Forum, enabling participants to experience how a city looks from the height of an average toddler. Around 80 participants experienced three VR scenarios covering aspects of city life such as traffic, noise, pollution, and access to green spaces and rest areas. Their feedback indicated that the tool had successfully raised their awareness of problems and potential solutions.

Photo: Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority (ECA)

Building on this awareness, Arup’s Sara Candiracci gave a talk on how urban planning that responds to the needs of children can help to develop resilient cities for all.

The Forum was opened by His Highness Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior. It brought together over 250 global leaders, innovators, policy makers, early childhood experts, academics and practitioners.

Among the other presenters was Dr Dimitri Christakis of the University of Washington, who explored how ubiquitous digital technology is changing children’s brain development and what are the implications for mental health.

Panels discussed topics such as interactive physical play in the digital era, how children and parents alike can develop responsible gaming habits, and ethical questions raised by the use of technology to monitor children’s development.

The event advanced our shared understanding on topics such as how technology can help us to understand contextual and individual ways of learning in the early years, especially for children in vulnerable situations such as displacement.

We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the WED Movement, given the many overlaps between our areas of work to improve the wellbeing of children and caregivers. The Forum, which will become an annual event, concluded with over 500 families taking part in a fun run on Pier71.

Photo: Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority (ECA)