Highlighting the lack of appropriate governance and regulation in the use of technology in education, the UNESCO issued an urgent call for its responsible and equitable implementation. In its 2023 Global Education Monitoring Report, UNESCO highlights the need for proper governance and regulation to ensure technology complements, rather than replaces in person, traditional teacher-led instruction.
The digital revolution holds immeasurable potential but, just as warnings has been voiced for how it should be regulated in society, similar attention must be paid to the way it is used in education. Its use must be for enhanced learning experiences and for the well-being of students and teachers, not to their detriment. Keep the needs of the learner first and support teachers. Online connections are no substitute for human interaction,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
The report emphasizes the shared objective of providing quality education for all. To ensure a successful integration of technology in education, the report poses four key questions for policymakers and educational stakeholders to consider.
IS IT APPROPRIATE?
The report stresses that while technology can enhance certain types of learning in specific contexts, its excessive use or implementation without qualified teachers can lead to diminishing learning benefits. For instance, distributing computers to students does not improve learning outcomes if teachers are not actively involved in the pedagogical process. The presence of smart phones in schools has been found to be distracting, yet a limited number of countries have banned their use in educational settings. Moreover, remote and online learning can exacerbate learning disparities among students, especially when the content is not contextually appropriate. The dominance of European and North American online repositories, with the majority of materials in English, highlights the lack of content diversity in open educational resources.
IS IT EQUITABLE?
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the digital divide in education, leaving around half a billion students worldwide without access to online learning, disproportionately affecting the poorest and those in rural areas. The report emphasizes that meaningful connectivity is now a fundamental aspect of the right to education. However, approximately one in four primary schools lacks electricity. To bridge this gap, the report calls for all countries to establish benchmarks for connecting schools to the internet by 2030, with a particular focus on marginalized communities.
IS IT SCALABLE?
The report highlights the need for robust and impartial evidence regarding technology’s effectiveness in learning. Currently, most evidence comes from the United States, with less than 2% of assessed education interventions showing strong or moderate effectiveness. Overreliance on evidence provided by technology companies raises concerns about potential biases. Moreover, many countries overlook the long-term costs of technology adoption, and while the EdTech market expands, basic education needs remain unaddressed. The cost of implementing digital learning in low-income countries and connecting all schools in lower-middle-income countries to the internet would significantly add to the financing gap for achieving national SDG 4 targets. A complete digital transformation of education, including internet connectivity in schools and homes, would incur substantial daily expenses.
IS IT SUSTAINABLE?
The rapid pace of technological change puts pressure on education systems to adapt. Digital literacy and critical thinking skills become increasingly crucial, particularly in the context of growing generative AI applications. While some countries have already initiated efforts to define future-oriented skills (54% of surveyed countries), only a small fraction have incorporated AI-related curricula (11 out of 51 governments surveyed). Basic literacy must not be overlooked, as it plays a vital role in enabling effective digital application. Additionally, teachers need appropriate training, yet only half of the countries have set standards for developing their ICT skills. Cyber security remains a neglected aspect, despite the fact that education is a prime target for 5% of ransomware attacks.
Sustainability also requires safeguarding the rights of technology users, particularly data privacy. Currently, only 16% of countries legally guarantee data privacy in education. Shockingly, 89% of education technology products analyzed could potentially survey children. During the pandemic, online education provided by 39 out of 42 governments risked or infringed on children’s rights.