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Why technology in education must be on our terms

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The enduring relationship between technology and education has captivated attention for decades. While technology brings forth extraordinary possibilities, it is imperative to approach its integration with careful consideration and accountability. The 2023 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report provides invaluable perspectives on the transformative impact of technology on education, elucidating its advantages, constraints, and the hurdles linked with its adoption.

As the flagship UNESCO report underscores, the absence of adequate governance and regulation, particularly in the face of rapidly advancing generative artificial intelligence tools, stands out as a pressing concern. It calls upon nations to promptly establish their own parameters for the development and utilization of technology in education. This imperative ensures that technology never supplants in-person, instructor-led teaching, and instead reinforces the delivery of high-quality education for all. Here, we delve into key insights from the report.

What has been the evolution of technology in education?

The evolution of technology in education traces back to the early 20th century with the introduction of radio, marking the initial foray into technological integration in learning. However, it’s the advent of digital technology over the past four decades that has truly unlocked the profound potential for educational transformation. This period has heralded a revolution in various aspects of education, including content dissemination, learning management systems, assessment techniques, and language teaching methodologies. Augmented reality and personalized tutoring are just a few examples of how technology has fundamentally reshaped the landscape of learning.

Furthermore, recent strides in artificial intelligence have significantly augmented the capabilities of educational technology, prompting inquiries into the evolving role of human interaction within the educational sphere. This ongoing evolution underscores the dynamic interplay between technology and education, continually pushing the boundaries of traditional teaching and learning paradigms.

What is the impact of technology on learning?

Undoubtedly, technology enriches learning within certain parameters. Yet, it’s vital to acknowledge that a uniform solution doesn’t universally suffice. The essence of digital technology’s impact on learning stems from its capacity to tailor instruction to individual needs and elongate learning opportunities. Moreover, it cultivates engagement through fostering interaction and collaboration among learners. Notably, the report underscores that technological effectiveness doesn’t hinge solely on cutting-edge innovations.

How do we evaluate technology’s effectiveness in education?

For instance, in China, the provision of high-quality lesson recordings to rural students yielded a 32% enhancement in outcomes and a 38% reduction in urban-rural learning disparities. This underscores the potency of even rudimentary technological interventions in bridging educational gaps. Thus, while technology offers immense potential for enhancing learning experiences, its efficacy lies not merely in novelty but in its ability to address specific educational needs and contexts.

How reliable is the evidence?

Evaluating the effectiveness of technology in education requires a nuanced approach that prioritizes learning outcomes over the mere deployment of digital tools, as underscored by the report. Instances like Peru, where laptops were distributed without integrating them into pedagogy, serve as stark reminders that technology alone does not ensure enhanced learning. Similarly, the exclusive reliance on remote instruction in the United States exacerbated learning disparities. Furthermore, the report cautions against inappropriate or excessive use of technology, citing evidence of negative correlations between excessive ICT use and student performance.

What are the recommendations for effective integration of technology in education?

However, the reliability of evidence poses a challenge, given the rapid evolution of technology often outpacing its evaluation. Evidence predominantly stems from affluent countries, raising concerns regarding its generalizability. Shockingly, the report reveals that only 7% of education technology companies in the United Kingdom conducted randomized controlled trials, indicating a dearth of rigorous evaluation. The difficulty in isolating technology’s impact from other factors further complicates precise assessment. Moreover, the influence of technology companies on evidence generation introduces credibility challenges.

In light of these complexities, the report offers recommendations for the effective integration of technology in education. It stresses that not all technological advancements necessarily denote progress, particularly as artificial intelligence gains prominence. Thus, the adoption of technology should be guided by a learner-centric, rights-based framework, ensuring appropriateness, equity, evidence-based decision-making, and sustainability. The report advocates for policymakers to follow a four-point compass:

  1. Look down: Evaluate the context and learning objectives to ensure that technology choices bolster education systems effectively.
  2. Look back: Prioritize marginalized groups to guarantee that technology benefits all learners and diminishes educational inequalities.
  3. Look up: Prioritize evidence-based decision-making and consider hidden long-term costs before scaling up technology initiatives.
  4. Look forward: Align technology integration with sustainable development goals, taking into account financial implications, children’s well-being, and environmental impact.

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