The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has published a report that warns of the lack of appropriate governance and regulation of technology in education. The Global Education Monitoring Report advocates for a “human-centered vision” where digital technology serves students and educators instead of detracting from the educational process.

The report is titled, ‘Technology in Education: A Tool on Whose Terms?’ It finds that oftentimes technology is used “to plug a gap,” with no regard for the long-term costs for national budgets, children’s well-being, or the planet. As technology is being increasingly deployed in education, the report urges policymakers and educational stakeholders to reflect on whether technology is 1) appropriate; 2) equitable; 3) scalable; and 4) sustainable.

Keep the needs of the learner first and support teachers. Online connections are no substitute for human interaction.

— Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General

Is it appropriate?

“Some education technology can improve some types of learning in some contexts,” the report suggests. However, it warns, learning benefits disappear if technology is used in excess or if it replaces a qualified teacher. For example, in Peru, “when over 1 million laptops were distributed without being incorporated into pedagogy, learning did not improve.”

The report also shows that “smartphones in schools have … proven to be a distraction to learning,” as “[m]ere proximity to a mobile device was found to … have a negative impact on learning in 14 countries.” Yet, the report flags, fewer than one in four countries have banned smartphone use in schools.

Is it equitable?

The report shows that during the COVID-19 pandemic, at least half a billion students worldwide missed out on education as schools shifted to online learning. The poorest and those in rural areas were affected the most. The right to education, it underscores, “is increasingly synonymous with the right to meaningful connectivity.” Yet, globally, 60% of primary, 50% of lower secondary, and 35% of upper secondary schools are not connected to the Internet.

Is it scalable?

The report finds there is a lack of robust evidence on digital technology’s added value in education, with most of it originating in the richest countries. For example, in the UK, 7% of education technology companies had carried out randomized controlled trials, and only 12% had resorted to third-party certification. According to a survey of teachers and administrators in 17 US states, only 11% used peer-reviewed evidence prior to adopting technologies for education.

Is it sustainable?

The report highlights that technology is developing at such a pace that education systems are struggling to adapt. Yet, particularly with the growth of generative AI, the importance of digital literacy and critical thinking cannot be overstated. The report further calls for staying focused on basic literacy, which, it argues, is critical for digital application as well. For instance, “students with better reading skills are far less likely to be duped by phishing emails.”

The Global Education Monitoring Report relies on the SDG 4 (quality education) monitoring framework to track the implementation of national and international strategies “to help hold all relevant partners to account for their commitments.”

The report was launched on 26 July 2023 at an event in Montevideo, Uruguay, attended by 15 ministers of education from around the world. [Publication: Global Education Monitoring Report 2023: Technology in Education: A Tool on Whose Terms?] [Publication Landing Page] [Online Report] [UNESCO Press Release] [UN News Story]


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