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Future of Edtech Q3 2022

Digital education: making it a global common good

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Stefania Giannini

Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO

The future of education took a sharp turn when the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted learning around the world for over two years.

It’s been as much a reality check on technology’s promise ‘to learn anywhere, anytime’ as a time to seize to universalise access to public digital education.

Divides run deep

Throughout the pandemic, learning continuity became largely dependent on access to devices, digital content, connectivity as well as basic digital skills. Over one-third of the world’s students — 500 million — simply saw their education come to a halt.

In many low-income countries, less than 10% of children and adolescents are connected, against 90% in high-income ones. One in three people lack even the most basic digital skills. The gender digital divide significantly constrained girls’ ability to learn online.

The digital revolution has accelerated, and there could be no better time to harness its power to provide education as a public good and human right.

Technology can complement, enrich and extend learning but it cannot and should not replace human interaction.

Steps to take

Governments, tech companies and other players need to converge around key principles. The first is to recalibrate policies, actions and investments to centre the most marginalised. Asking how approaches can work for refugees, students with disabilities, teachers in remote areas and other underprivileged learners is the point of departure. And they must work for all women and girls.

Next, digital learning implies high-quality digital content that is free and accessible. Currently, this is rarely the case. In many instances, content has not been quality assured, is poorly organised or resides behind paywalls or in virtual spaces that inappropriately capture and sell student data and expose learners to advertising.

Finally, Covid-19 has clarified the preeminent role of teachers. They must be empowered with the skills to use digital tools for teaching and learning. Education is, at the core, about human development, and human interactions are at the heart of this enterprise. Technology can complement, enrich and extend learning but it cannot and should not replace human interaction.

Creating universal access

Digital technology as a basic lever for access and learning was a core focus of the Transforming Education Summit to which the UN Secretary-General convened heads of state and government on 19 September.

We have the means to provide such a gateway to universal digital literacy for education, to connect every school to the internet and facilitate the extension of internet services to households and individuals. Digital learning is now foundational — let’s invest in strengthening the public digital commons to improve teaching and learning for all. UNESCO is making this a priority.

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