Screens may not be the best way for kids, especially young children, to learn. But with 1.5 billion students home from school around the world, e-learning has taken over. Attendance is now taken digitally, and apps and websites have replaced face-to-face teaching as the tool of the era.
In turn, Google is launching a new certification for apps in its Google Play Store called “Teacher Approved.” Over the past few years, the company has contracted over 250 teachers to develop a rubric and rating methodology for apps that are suitable for children under 13 to download and use. Google had planned to launch teacher approved apps later this year, but with the COVID-19 crisis, it expedited the release.
“We’re launching with 1,000 teacher approved apps instead of a larger corpus [as planned],” says Saurabh Sharma, group product manager at Google. “But we believe this corpus is large [enough].”
Teacher-approved apps will be tabbed with a badge and will primarily live inside a “Kids” tab in the Play Store, which can be sorted by age. Notably, that tab isn’t called “education” (even though that category exists in the Play Store, too). That’s because this designation doesn’t necessarily mean that the apps are good for rote learning, but that they’re “high quality,” in the words of director of UX Mindy Brooks, and designed to foster other aspects of intelligence like creativity. Note that these apps aren’t new, but they’re being analyzed by professional educators for the first time.
When judging the apps, teachers looked at criteria including word and sound design, interaction design, visual design, appeal, and enrichment. Google’s criteria for teacher approved is admittedly broad, and in this sense, the “teacher approved” label is apt. These are just apps that Google has shortlisted for children (for reasons they declined to disclose)—and that educators have then verified to be a solid option. But for parents who want to understand why something was approved, Google has added a plain language explanation inside the description of all teacher approved apps. Called “here’s why,” it details what about the app was appealing to those who judged it.
Notably, Google hasn’t published the best practices for developing apps for kids in the past, but will begin sharing guidelines with developers in the coming weeks. It’s also worth noting that teacher approved apps are expected to abide by child privacy laws (and in many are cases tested by Google to make sure they do).
Make no mistake—Google, along with Apple and Microsoft, could be doing a lot more to help at-risk students during the COVID-19 pandemic. And screen time isn’t going to solve the current crisis with education. But expediting the teacher-approved program appears to be a successful design intervention to help parents who are faced with choosing from an endless array of apps from developers they don’t know. For Google, which makes 30% off of Play Store purchases, that’s not just good design, it’s good business. Again, 1.5 billion students are home from school. Many are going to be downloading something.