The adoption of digital technology has resulted in many changes in education and learning, yet it is debatable whether technology has transformed education, as many claim. The application of digital technology varies by community and socioeconomic level, teacher willingness and preparedness, education level and country income. Except in the most technologically advanced countries, computers and devices are not used in classrooms on a large scale. The report underscores the importance of learning to live both with and without digital technology, to take what is needed from an abundance of information but ignore what is not necessary, and to let technology support, but never supplant, the human connection on which teaching and learning are based. The focus should be on learning outcomes, not digital inputs. To help improve learning, digital technology should not be a substitute for but a complement to face-to-face interaction with teachers.
There is little robust evidence of digital 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.
Technology offers an education lifeline for millions but excludes many more. Accessible technology and universal design have opened up opportunities for learners with disabilities. Radio, television and mobile phones fill in for traditional education among hard-to-reach populations. Online learning stopped education from melting down during COVID-19 school closures. The right to education is increasingly synonymous with the right to meaningful connectivity, yet access is unequal.
Some education technology can improve some types of learning in some contexts. Digital technology has dramatically increased access to teaching and learning resources. It has brought small to medium-sized positive effects to some types of learning. However, it should focus on learning outcomes, not on digital inputs. And it need not be advanced to be effective. Finally, it can have a detrimental impact if inappropriate or excessive.
The fast pace of technological change is putting strain on education systems to adapt. Countries are starting to define the digital skills they want to prioritize in curricula and assessment standards. Many students do not have much chance to practise with digital technology in schools. Teachers often feel unprepared and lack confidence in teaching with technology. Various issues impede the potential of digital data in education management.
Online content has grown without enough regulation of quality control or diversity. Online content is produced by dominant groups, affecting access to it. Higher education is adopting digital technology the fastest and being transformed by it the most.
Technology is often bought to plug a gap, with no view of long-term costs. The cost of moving to basic digital learning in low-income countries and connecting all schools to the internet in lower-middle-income countries would add 50% to their current financing gap for achieving national SDG 4 targets. Children’s data are being exposed, yet only 16% of countries explicitly guarantee data privacy in education by law. One analysis found that 89% of 163 education technology products recommended during the pandemic could survey children. One estimate of the CO2 emissions that could be saved by extending the lifespan of all laptops in the European Union by a year found it would be equivalent to taking almost 1 million cars off the road.