UNESCO issues urgent call for appropriate use of technology in education

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Learning inequities between students widen when instruction is exclusively remote and online content is not always context appropriate. A study of open educational resource collections found that nearly 90% of higher education online repositories were created either in Europe or in North America; 92% of the material in the Open Educational Resources Commons global library is in English.

1. Is it equitable?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the rapid shift to online learning left out at least half a billion students worldwide, mostly affecting the poorest and those in rural areas. The report underlines that the right to education is increasingly synonymous with the right to meaningful connectivity, yet one in four primary schools do not have electricity. It calls for all countries to set benchmarks for connecting schools to the internet between now and 2030 and for the focus to remain on the most marginalized.

2. Is it scalable?

Sound, rigorous and impartial evidence of technology’s added value in learning is needed more than ever, but is lacking. Most evidence comes from the United States, where the What Works Clearinghouse pointed out that less than 2% of education interventions assessed had ‘strong or moderate evidence of effectiveness’. When the evidence only comes from the technology companies themselves, there is a risk it may be biased.

Many countries ignore the long-term costs of technology purchases and the EdTech market is expanding while basic education needs remain unmet. The cost of moving to basic digital learning in low-income countries and connecting all schools to the internet in lower-middle-income countries would add 50% to their current financing gap for achieving national SDG 4 targets. A full digital transformation of education with internet connectivity in schools and homes would cost over a billion per day just to operate.

3.Is it sustainable?

The fast pace of change in technology is putting strain on education systems to adapt. Digital literacy and critical thinking are increasingly important, particularly with the growth of generative AI. Additional data attached to the report show that this adaptation movement has begun: 54% of surveyed countries have defined the skills they want to develop for the future. But only 11 out of 51 governments surveyed have curricula for AI.

In addition to these skills, basic literacy should not be overlooked, as it is critical for digital application too: students with better reading skills are far less likely to be duped by phishing emails.

Moreover, teachers also need appropriate training yet only half of countries currently have standards for developing their ICT skills. Few teacher training programmes cover cybersecurity even though 5% of ransomware attacks target education.

Sustainability also requires better guaranteeing the rights of technology users. Today, only 16% of countries guarantee data privacy in education by law. One analysis found that 89% of 163 education technology products could survey children. Further, 39 of 42 governments providing online education during the pandemic fostered uses that ‘risked or infringed’ on children’s rights.

 

Press contacts 

Clare O’Hagan: [email protected] +33 (0) 1 45 68 17 29

Elsa Weill: [email protected] +33 630 62 18 75

 

Notes to editors:

The Global Education Monitoring Report: Established in 2002, the GEM Report is an editorially independent report, hosted and published by UNESCO. At the 2015 World Education Forum, it received a mandate from 160 governments to monitor and report on progress on education in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with particular reference to the SDG 4 monitoring framework, and the implementation of national and international strategies to help hold all relevant partners to account for their commitments.

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