Educational technology: It's time for a change
The United Nations Special Rapporteur has called for full discussion to take place on the age-appropriateness for the introduction of digital technologies in schools, as well as on necessary prerequisites in terms of children’s capacities and skills before fully developing their digital competencies. Discussions need to consider 'other impacts of digitization of education' on health, isolation, student privacy and data protection.
The UNESCO Global Education Monitoring 2023 report has summarised research concluding that while the use of digital technologies in the classroom for some tasks, some of the time, can support learning; frequent use of digital technologies in education is consistently associated with reduced learning outcomes in large-scale research. This is particularly so for primary school-aged children, who seem to have less to gain than older students.
They further note that most research supporting the effective use of digital technologies in education comes from those who stand to gain.
OECD data and further studies show that young people in NZ have amongst the highest rates of screen use in the world, both in home and school.
In the majority of the world, including wealthy countries, children and adolescents use digital technologies to learn in class on average once or twice per week.
Four other countries also have higher screen use in education, including Denmark, Sweden, Australia and the US - all are taking steps to pull back and/or to regulate the use of digital technologies in class.
So why is NZ not taking these steps, and what is driving the push behind Ed Tech in Aotearoa?
Ed tech is seen as a solution for equality of educational access, and a pathway to reduce socioeconomic and cultural barriers in NZ
The concept of Ed Tech as a solution, and the majority of research showing educational benefits is driven by those with a commercial interest
Key commercial actors within the Ed tech industry act as both salespeople and advisors at the same time, for the education sector
Ed Tech profits exceeded one hundred billion dollars in 2021 in the US alone with annual growth projected at 16.5% per annum, representing extraordinary interest to grow and promote online learning by Ed Tech providers, product developers and organisations involved in developing/implementing ‘21st-century’ models of education
EdTech NZ, who are dedicated to growing the educational technology market, note in this month's blog how success in growth 'depends on a nuanced strategy, focusing on both district-level decisions and grassroots teacher engagement, including the power of word-of-mouth' in marketing. This illustrates some of the points in UNESCO's inquiry into what is driving the push for educational technology, when much use goes against current evidence.
“Why is there often the perception nevertheless that technology can address major education challenges? To understand the discourse around education technology, it is necessary to look behind the language being used to promote it, and the interests it serves.”
“Such reporting routinely characterizes education technology as essential and technology companies as enablers and disruptors. If optimistic projections are not fulfilled, responsibility is implicitly placed on governments as a way of maintaining indirect pressure on them to increase procurement. Education is criticized as being slow to change, stuck in the past and a laggard when it comes to innovation. Such coverage plays on users’ fascination with novelty but also their fear of being left behind.”
With current levels of evidence, the way our kids are using digital technologies in school must be discussed, and reconsidered. Are Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs, which are globally on the decline, the best option for primary-aged students? Unless they have special learning needs, the balance of evidence is lacking to support such initiatives. BYOD programs, which often begin in NZ schools when children are seven or eight-years-old, are thought to result in significantly increased use of screens overall.
We need guidance for educators, parents and schools, on how children and adolescents can get the most from digital technologies, with lower risk.
Go to www.sensiblescreenuse.org for more information.