As the coronavirus spread in the early 2020s, schools all across the world abruptly stopped offering in-person instruction. Many governments and parents believed that transferring lessons online was the best temporary fix.
School districts in the US were rushing to protect pupils’ digital gadgets. Videoconferencing tools like Zoom quickly took over as the primary method for teachers to instruct pupils remotely in real time.
A new report from UNESCO, the educational and cultural arm of the UN, claims that the pandemic’s overuse of remote learning technology contributed to “staggering” global education disparity. A 655-page report published by UNESCO on Wednesday calls it a global “ed-tech tragedy.”
The Future of Education division of UNESCO released a report that is likely to fuel the discussion on how governments and local school districts handled pandemic restrictions and if it would have been preferable for some nations to reopen schools for in-person instruction sooner.
According to the UNESCO researchers, hundreds of millions of students worldwide, including those in Kenya, Brazil, Britain, and the United States, are suffering from learning loss and disparities as a result of a “unprecedented” dependence on technology that was put in place to ensure that kids could continue their education.
The researchers found that the promotion of remote online learning as the primary solution for pandemic schooling also stymied public discussion of more equitable, lower-tech alternatives, such as regularly giving out homework packets to every student, delivering lessons via radio or television, and reopening schools sooner for in-person classes.
“Available evidence strongly indicates that the bright spots of the ed-tech experiences during the pandemic, while important and deserving of attention, were vastly eclipsed by failure,” the UNESCO assessment stated.
The UNESCO experts advised educational authorities to place more emphasis on face-to-face training with teachers rather than online learning environments as the main source of student learning. And before introducing developing technology for instructional purposes, such A.I. chatbots, they urged schools to make sure that kids actually benefited from them.
Experts in education and business appreciated the results and called for additional investigation into the effects of pandemic learning.
According to Paul Lekas, head of worldwide public policy for the Software & Information Industry Association, a group that includes Amazon, Apple, and Google as members, “societies must be vigilant about the ways that digital tools are reshaping education.” There are many things that can be learned about digital education during the pandemic and how to reduce the digital divide, according to the report.
The CEO of the nonprofit education organisation Digital Promise, Jean-Claude Brizard, recognised that “technology is not a cure-all.” Digital Promise has received support from Google, HP, and Verizon. However, he added that despite the fact that educational institutions were mostly unprepared for the epidemic, online learning resources aided in creating “more individualised, enhanced learning experiences as schools shifted to virtual classrooms.”
The UNESCO report highlighted the value of in-person, face-to-face instruction, according to Education International, an umbrella organisation for around 380 teachers’ unions and 32 million instructors globally.
“The report tells us definitively what we already know to be true, a place called school matters,” said Haldis Holst, the organization’s deputy general secretary. “Education is not merely the conveyance of content; neither is it a transaction. It is interpersonal. It is communal. At its essence, it is human.
Listed below are a few of the report’s key conclusions:
Technology’s potential for improving education was exaggerated.
Computers, apps, and internet access have been marketed as advances that will immediately democratise and modernise student learning in public schools for more than ten years by Silicon Valley tech titans as well as nonprofit organisations and think tanks that are funded by the sector.
Many said that these technological advancements would make it simpler for students to follow their interests, learn at their own pace, and get immediate automated feedback on their assignments through learning analytics algorithms.
The report’s conclusions cast doubt on the notion that advancement and equity in education are inextricably linked to digital technologies.
Even though more fair, lower-tech alternatives were available, the research said that as coronavirus incidence spiked in early 2020, the overselling of ed-tech solutions made distant online learning look like the most alluring and practical answer for pandemic schooling.
Education gaps were made worse by remote online learning.
Researchers from UNESCO discovered that the transition to distant online learning tended to benefit children from affluent households significantly while disadvantageously affecting those from lower-income families.
60 percent of national remote learning programmes “relied exclusively” on internet-connected platforms by May 2020, according to the survey. However, the survey stated that over half a billion young people — roughly half of primary and secondary pupils worldwide — who were targeted by those remote learning programmes did not have internet access at home, prohibiting them from taking part.
One-third of American students in kindergarten through 12th grade “were cut off from education” in 2020 as a result of inadequate internet connections or hardware, according to statistics and polls referenced in the paper. Less than half of Pakistani families in 2021 reported having the necessary technology to participate in remote learning programmes, despite 30% of households reporting knowledge of these programmes.
The process of learning was hampered.
Even when kids had access to digital devices and internet connections, student learning outcomes “declined dramatically” when schools used ed tech to substitute in-person instruction, according to UNESCO researchers.
The study found that online learners spent more time on tedious digital chores and far less time on formal educational duties. The article discussed a daily learning pattern that consisted “less of discovery and exploration than traversing file-sharing systems, moving through automated learning content, checking for updates on corporate platforms, and enduring long video calls.”
According to the survey, remote online learning also restricted or reduced students’ options for socialisation and extracurricular activities, which led to many students losing interest in their studies or dropping out.
According to the survey, the change to remote learning also offered a few tech platforms, such as Google and Zoom, unprecedented prominence in educational settings. According to the report, these digital systems frequently imposed private sector ideals and objectives that were at contrast with the “humanistic” values of public education.
We need guardrails and regulation.
The researchers advised schools to make students’ interests their first priority when using ed tech in order to avoid a repeat of the incident.
The researchers recommended more controls and regulations for online learning aids on a practical level. Additionally, they recommended that districts allow teachers more control over the selection and implementation of digital tools in classrooms.