The role of technology in education was put under the microscope on Tuesday during South Africa’s launch of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (Unesco) Global Education Monitoring Report 2023.
Titled the “Technology in Education: A tool in whose terms?”, the report sets out to find out whether digital technology can solve the most important challenges in education.
In line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 which focuses on education, the report interrogates whether technology does help solve the challenges of equity and inclusion, quality, and efficiency.
The report tells a more sobering picture of the role of technology in education rather than the picture that portrays it as a panacea to teaching and learning challenges.
While technology lowers the cost of access to education for some disadvantaged groups, the report notes access to the internet and devices remains highly unequal.
In South Africa with its socio-economic challenges which mirrored in the education system with some schools dealing with basic services issues such as access to clean water and appropriate sanitation, technology widens the divide.
Glenda Miles, Microsoft’s education industry advisor for Africa, said learning institutions cannot have technology for the sake of having technology.
“Technology has to drive better learning outcomes,” she said, noting that technology is implemented in learning institutions with no real benefits for teaching and learning.
“The problem is also that people are acquiring technology for fear of missing out and because they have budgets to spend.”
Added value on education
According to the report, there is also little evidence on technology’s added value in education.
“Technology evolves faster than it is possible to evaluate it. Education technology products change every 36 months, on average,” shows the report.
“Most evidence comes from the richest countries.”
In the UK, 7% of education technology companies had conducted randomised controlled trials, and 12% had used third-party certification.
“A survey of teachers and administrators in 17 US states shows that only 11% requested peer-reviewed evidence prior to adoption,” it shows further, noting that a lot of the evidence comes from those trying to sell it.
The report recommends that technology should be introduced into education on the basis of evidence showing that it would be appropriate, equitable, scalable and sustainable.
“In other words, its use should be in the learners’ best interests and should complement face-to-face interaction with teachers.
“It should be seen as a tool to be used on these terms,” the report says.