Global education monitoring report, 2023: technology in education: a tool on whose terms?

Executive Summary

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.

Key Findings

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.


Education systems have long relied on technology to reach groups traditionally excluded from education and support learning continuity during emergencies. Technological solutions are sometimes the only option many learners have for education. Certain long-standing programs, such as radio-based instruction for nomads or televised instruction for remote areas, have helped increase enrolment and participation for marginalized populations. Throughout the years, countries have worked on improving existing interventions, increasing the interactivity of traditionally one-way broadcasting technologies, and embedding accessibility and personalization features in platforms and devices. Technology should not be viewed as the solution but as a supportive tool in overcoming certain barriers to education access. The most effective interventions are those that put learners’ interests as the focal point and support human interaction, using adequate in-person support, extensive teacher training and appropriate technology for the specific context. The best learning systems never rely on technology alone. Interventions must be backed up by strong evidence that they are the most effective tool for reaching the targeted learners and responding to identified needs. Only technology’s potential is seen in displacement contexts, with less evidence and rigorous evaluation of its effectiveness in increasing access to marginalized groups; interventions remain small-scale and largely non-state-led. Focusing on the sustainability of interventions is key, especially as emergencies become more frequent and many children remain out of reach from conventional schooling systems. Countries can build on prior distance learning experience to quickly respond to these crises, repurpose already developed platforms, and build interventions that put the needs of the most marginalized learners at the centre. These are often the learners who stand to benefit the most from technology-supported education, while at the same time, as the COVID-19 pandemic showed, they can be disproportionately excluded if their needs are not adequately recognized and actively prioritized.