For more than a decade, I have engaged in all things related to technology’s role in addressing education challenges, including the successes, the excesses, the flops and the transformations.
I recognized immediately that the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic was a once-in-a-lifetime event that could be a catalyst to help children leverage technology to help them avoid common challenges associated with interrupted schooling.
Technology for supporting education outcomes is a growing field, and the rapid interest spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on many new and interchangeable phrases. Here, I am largely referring to “edtech” as the use of information and communication technologies in education systems. This can range from low-tech solutions such as radio and TV in poor connectivity to higher-tech online solutions.
Learning loss, school dropouts, mental health challenges, huge gender and inequity divides in access to resources and increased gender-based violence (including in digital spaces) are some of the challenges that can occur during periods of schooling interruption.
In theory, technology can help mitigate and eliminate these education challenges if—and only if—the intervention is well implemented, well resourced, and in line with guidance from academic and practitioner research and overarching frameworks related to duty of care, such as the Digital Impact Alliance’s Principles for Digital Development.
For a few months, it seemed that locally relevant edtech interventions were flourishing—and broadly being welcomed by parents who became teachers overnight—with the support of multilateral organizations within the United Nations sphere. Governments and the private sector were pairing up to help address school interruption.
However, what was observed during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the early months, was far from the edtech utopia I thought possible.
Reflecting on what I have observed and researched since the pandemic began, I see three reasons why the boost edtech got from the pandemic may be short-lived.
1. As classes resume in person under the “new normal,” I see a risk that edtech is sidelined. If so, we may lose the opportunity to embrace all the opportunities technology can offer when it is embedded and in support of more resilient education systems.
At the start of the pandemic, governments worked rapidly to put in place multimodal solutions (or edtech approaches involving more than one form of digital and/or analog technology) to support learning continuity as school closures were implemented and persisted.
Solutions involving technology were flexible and made clear suggested approaches for reaching the neediest or most vulnerable learners within a nation.