The rise of technology for education: Launch of the Global Reference Group

Many countries view technology as a mean to transform education, but face multiple challenges when using technology as a learning accelerator. The new Global Reference Group on Technology for Education will offer expert advice and identify opportunities to enhance the current work of GPE partners in technology for education.

May 21, 2024 by Charles North, GPE Secretariat, and Michael Trucano, Center for Universal Education, Brookings Institution
5 minutes read
Grade 10 students Maryam Jurayeva and Muhammad Hakimov study at the new computer lab of secondary school No. 53, Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Credit: UNICEF/Manucher Ruziev
Grade 10 students Maryam Jurayeva and Muhammad Hakimov study at the new computer lab of secondary school No. 53, Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
Credit: UNICEF/Manucher Ruziev

It’s no surprise that technology is seen as a solution when considering the challenges facing education systems today - COVID-19 resulted in schools shut all across the world and over 1.6 billion children out of the classroom (UNESCO, 2021).

Estimates show that 1 billion children are at extremely high risk of suffering from the climate crisis, impacting their ability to learn (UNICEF, 2021). Conflict, economic and social upheavals affected many countries before COVID and, for some, have only worsened since.

As countries address these challenges and seek to transform their education systems, technology is increasingly seen as an accelerator to provide multiple pathways for learning and education continuity, particularly for hard-to-reach and vulnerable children. When designed and used correctly, technology has strong potential for better outcomes and more efficient systems.

Increasing investments in technology for education

Investments have matched this rise in technology usage in education – global edtech investments reached USD 18 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education projected to reach USD 404 billion by 2025 (Holon IQ, 2021).

While many GPE partner countries view technology as a means to accelerate progress in education, they face multiple challenges and barriers - including the challenge to digitize their education systems, especially in a post-COVID era and in a world where it is anticipated that 70% of new economic value created in the next decade will come from business models empowered by digital technologies (World Economic Forum, 2023). 

So how can we support countries to overcome these challenges and make the most of their investments?

“The environment is ready for every initiative in Ghana. Our challenge is effective collaboration and coordination within the Edtech space. We want to make sure we reduce fragmentation and work together in coordination at the district, regional and national levels.”

Nana Gyamfi Adwabour, Executive Director, CENDLOS, Ghana
Students during a lesson at Gbimsi Junior High School, Savelugu, Northern Region Ghana. Credit: GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer
Students during a lesson at Gbimsi Junior High School, Savelugu, Northern Region Ghana.
GPE/ Stephan Bachenheimer

Education transformation needs all hands on deck

Education transformation is a big ambition that is easier said than done. We know that it is often constrained by countries’ ability to identify, access, and integrate expertise, resources or solutions that can fast-track transformation.

Many technology products and services for education are developed in OECD countries, designed for contexts and user needs (and budgets) that may not fit education systems in other parts of the world. Furthermore, technologies change quickly - just as education ministries started to draw lessons from the use of educational technologies during the pandemic, the rise of generative AI has further complicated their ability to plan for the future.

Given this complex landscape, how can education ministries separate related hope from hype, especially given the asymmetries of technological know-how and information between tech firms touting their products and the governments that are purchasing them?

Within this in mind, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) recently launched the Global Reference Group on Technology for Educationi. As co-chairs of the group, we are bringing together a diverse and well-rounded set of members with varying expertise and perspectives in education and technology.

They range from governments that have or are trying to digitally shift their education systems to civil society organizations, foundations and the private sector that are investigating the best approaches and evidence to do so, as well as representatives from leading technology companies who are sharing insights into what innovations of relevance to the education sector are likely to emerge in coming years.

The group will offer expert advice and insights and identify opportunities to enhance the current work of GPE and the many partners working in technology for education.

Together, the group aims to address the evolving challenges and opportunities in global education, increase synergies with ongoing efforts and help to identify possible partnerships.

In response to demand from countries, GPE is also providing technical assistance to strengthen the planning and programming capacity of education ministries to leverage technology adequately to improve education outcomes and strengthen the efficiency of education systems.

Ghana and Tajikistan are the first two countries where this approach will be piloted, with support from UNICEF and the EdTech Hub.

“We need to tackle the fundamentals of incorporating technology to transform education and prepare ourselves for the advancement in generative AI in education.”

Nora Almuhanna, Assistant General Supervisor, Ministry of Education, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The power of exchange

During our kick-off meeting, members of the Global Reference Group shared experiences, questions and their vision for what we can achieve together. A flavor of the rich discussion is below:

  • We learned about Estonia’s evolution to becoming a ‘digital nation’ over decades of investment, successful partnerships and focus on digital literacy of teachers and students.
  • We discovered Ghana’s wealth of actors and initiatives supporting technology for education, and also the need for coordination and collaboration among the many partners.
  • We were reminded of the need for creating a safe environment for teachers and students.
  • And we were challenged to think about how we can facilitate collaboration and entice new players to support sustainable and scalable solutions.

Together we are looking forward to seeing the impact of this dynamic group. The next steps include providing guidance, subject matter expertise and insights to lower-income countries.

The group will look at the challenges identified in Ghana and Tajikistan as pilots benefitting from GPE’s new technical assistance initiative. The group will also recommend and foster partnerships, identify patterns, trends, challenges, and opportunities in the EdTech landscape.

Fundamental to this process is a belief that technologies used for education must be utilized in ways that are safe, ethical and impactful, not only for groups in communities of privilege that have historically benefitted from them the most, but rather for all learners.

    Members of the Global Reference Group on Technology for Education

  • Albert Nsengiyumba, Executive Secretary, Association for the Development of Education in Africa
  • Alex Wong, Senior Advisor, Strategic Engagement and Initiatives, Executive Office, ITU
  • Alex Twinomugisha, Senior Education Technology Specialist, World Bank
  • Asif Saleh, Executive Director, BRAC
  • Christophe Nsengiyaremye, Director General of Education Sector Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Ministry of Education, Rwanda
  • Dina Ghobashy, Global Education Transformation Lead, Microsoft
  • Emily Friedman, Program Director, Global Business Coalition for Education
  • Erin Chemery, Senior Partnerships and Project Finance Officer, Global Education Coalition, UNESCO
  • Fabio Segura, Co-CEO, Jacobs Foundation
  • Haldis Holst, Deputy General Secretary, Education International
  • Jaakko Skantsi, Program Director, Education Finland, Finnish National Agency for Education
  • Joshua Valeta, Director of Open Distance and e-Learning, Ministry of Education, Malawi
  • Kristi Kulu, Program Manager, ESTDEV, Estonia
  • Nora Almuhanna, Assistant General Supervisor, Ministry of Education, Saudi Arabia
  • Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja, CEO & MD, Central Square Foundation
  • William Florance, Head of Strategic and Government Initiatives, Google for Education, Google
  • Young-chan Lee, Director-General of the Digital Education Planning Division, Ministry of Education, South Korea
  • Zohra Yermeche, Lead of Digital Education Activities, Ericsson

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