COVID-19: The Great  Digital Acceleration

COVID-19: The Great Digital Acceleration

As part of an OECD Forum series, the virtual event COVID-19: The Great Digital Acceleration took place on Tuesday, 15 December.

This event has now ended and registration is closed – but don't worry, you can still watch the replay!

The session was an opportunity to reflect on the fact that digital tools have played a central role in mitigating some of the impacts of the COVID pandemic. It is shining a light on both the benefits and risks associated with digital technologies. It has accelerated digitally-driven transformations and fastened the migration of many parts of our lives to the digital world. This holds significant implications for our relationship to digital technologies both during the pandemic and for the recovery, as we strive to develop the “digital future we want”.

Rethinking School Technology Bans: Safeguarding children is about finding better technology solutions

Started 7 months ago

The sixth Global Education Monitoring Report, Technology in education: A tool on whose terms? advocates that technology should complement, not replace, real teacher interaction. It's good to see this shift in focus from overhyped technology solutions to learning outcomes. However, there are still challenges with the technology-versus-teachers approach.

For a start, it can lead to oversimplification. After COVID19, and prolonged online teaching globally, newspapers have emphasized the negative sides of technology, overshadowing its initially promising potential. Examples of technology bans have been highlighted, making them appear as noteworthy examples for others to follow. Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden caught the world’s media spotlight after they have implemented rules to restrict the use of phones, Chromebooks, and digital textbooks in post-pandemic teaching.

The tech-versus-teachers debate can lead one to perceive technology as an adversary. The story can quickly shift to blaming technology for bigger societal issues and pointing fingers at the rapid development and commercialization of tech in today's fast-paced economy. In this system, children are treated as customers, and their actions are turned into business profits. This may be true in some cases, but making profit is not necessarily a bad thing. There are international companies dedicated to children that solve problems while making a profit (consider the LEGO company). It is about the companies’ profit-making strategies, the quality of their products, and their role in addressing (and not creating) problems.

Inflexible positions on children's technology have obstructed national digitization policies that solely concentrate on screen time regulations. While well-intentioned, the regulations typically mobilise research studies that rely on inadequate measures. The measures lack the rigor needed to draw powerful conclusions about the impact required for national regulations. Despite this flaw, these studies are still employed to shape national policies on screen time.

There is a paradox in this: While technology is evolving towards more personalized experiences, national policies are evolving towards generic bans. Further contradiction is apparent in school or national technology bans. Policy-makers speak of empowering children and valuing their agency, yet they suggest national bans decided and imposed by adults. While it's crucial to protect children with rules and safety measures - and some poorly designed educational technology can indeed be harmful- simply banning it won't lead to the creation of better technology or better learning.

Besides, not all technologies in schools are bad; many technologies are beneficial and in some contexts, essential for learning. In developing countries, technology is vital for online tutoring. So, in that case, national technology ban might unintentionally harm children who don’t have other alternatives. The key is to choose technologies purposefully and based on evidence- which calls for some rules and regulations.

The bottom line is: empowering children in technology use doesn't start with outright bans, and creating better technology doesn't come from oversimplifying it as screens versus no screens questions. Let us adopt a fresh perspective for children’s technology use in schools, one that directs attention towards the potential of children’s perspectives in creating better technologies and the uplifting impact that high-quality technology can have on their learning journey.