UNESCO warns of the critical need for balanced technology use in education

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UNESCO has released a report highlighting the urgent need for the right governance and regulation of technology in the realm of education. The Global Education Monitoring Report urges stakeholders to pursue a “human-centred vision” where digital technology is applied with care, foresight, and responsibility.

According to UNESCO’s report, titled ‘Technology in Education: A Tool on Whose Terms?’, technology in education should be:

  • Appropriate: It must enhance learning without overshadowing or replacing human interaction.
  • Equitable: It must bridge gaps rather than widen them, ensuring all have access to quality education.
  • Scalable: It must be capable of expansion without loss of integrity or value.
  • Sustainable: It must be viable in the long term, and not be an unsustainable burden on resources.

Appropriateness: a balance between humans and technology

UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, emphasizes that keeping the needs of the learner at the forefront is crucial. “Some education technology can improve some types of learning in some contexts,” the report notes, cautioning against over-reliance on technology at the cost of quality teaching. An instance in Peru, where distributing over 1 million laptops without proper pedagogical integration failed to improve learning, serves as a warning.

Equitability: ensuring access for all

The report highlights the stark digital divide revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic. At least half a billion students globally missed out on education as online learning became a norm, affecting primarily the poor and those in rural areas. Worryingly, 60% of primary, 50% of lower secondary, and 35% of upper secondary schools still lack Internet connectivity.

Scalability: a question of evidence and application

The report questions the scalability of digital technology in education, given the lack of substantial evidence on its added value. With a small percentage of education technology companies conducting random controlled trials in countries like the UK, and minimal reliance on peer-reviewed evidence in the US, the report calls for more robust analysis and thoughtful implementation.

Sustainability: long-term impact and adaptation

The rapidly advancing pace of technology, including the rise of generative AI, poses challenges for education systems struggling to adapt. UNESCO’s report emphasizes the necessity for digital literacy and critical thinking, without losing focus on basic literacy, which remains the foundation for digital application.

UNESCO’s comprehensive report calls for a profound reflection on the role of technology in education. It demands a balanced, considerate approach that ensures that technology serves as a tool to enhance, not detract from, the educational process. It’s a call to action for policymakers, educators, and all stakeholders to consider technology as an enabler rather than a solution in itself. In the words of Audrey Azoulay, “Online connections are no substitute for human interaction.” Only a judicious blend of the human touch with technology will lead to an educational ecosystem that is appropriate, equitable, scalable, and sustainable.

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