By Anna Cristina D’Addio and Daniel April, Samaher Al Hadheri, Chandni Jain, Maria-Rafaela Kaldi, Manuela Pombo, Divya Sharma, Dorothy Wang, GEM Report
Along with the recently released the 2023 GEM Report, Technology in education: A tool on whose terms?, we are delighted to announce the release of the sixth set of PEER country profiles providing a systematic and comprehensive overview of technology in education. The profiles focus on legislation and policies covering infrastructure, digital skills for teachers and students, learning platforms, governance and regulations for data privacy and cyberbullying, as well as smartphone bans.
The 211 education system profiles on technology in education were primarily prepared through desk review, complemented by commissioned research. The profiles are not intended to examine or discuss implementation. The profiles on technology in education focus mainly on primary and secondary education.
The profiles compile information in three areas of technology in education:
2. Laws, policies, plans and regulations covering:
a. education technology legislative and policy framework
b. technology infrastructure and learning environments
c. technology competencies of learners and teachers
d. cybersecurity and safety
3. Governance, including the roles of schools in regulating the use of devices.
For all profiles on the website, countries are invited to review and update the information. Profiles that have been reviewed are indicated a blue tick is placed on the country’s profile. UNESCO delegations kindly shared legislation, policies and programmes related to technology in education during the profile development process. Expert contributions also came from the UNESCO Institute for Information Technology in Education and the China National Institute of Education Sciences.
What do the profiles show?
Five key findings come out of the country profiles.
Many countries have plans to improve learners’ access to digital technology. Access to electricity, devices and the internet is highly unequal between and within countries, including between schools. The right to education is increasingly synonymous with the right to meaningful connectivity. The 2023 GEM Report finds that many countries concentrate their actions on strengthening infrastructure: 85% of countries have legislation or policies for improving school or learner connectivity. Meanwhile, 38% of countries have a law on universal internet provision and 27% on universal access to electricity.
There is a shift taking place away from providing a laptop or smartphone per child. One-to-one technology models have long been used to provide each student with one laptop or tablet. Such approaches are costlier than most interventions and their effectiveness has been questioned. The One Laptop Per Child initiative is probably the most famous intervention. Since its launch in 2005, more than 3 million Linux-based educational computers at a cost of USD 100 each have been distributed. The PEER profiles show that one-to-one technology programmes were at one time established in 30% of countries. However, currently, only 15% of countries pursue such programmes, in some cases fuelled by the pandemic. The shift away from them has been particularly strong in Latin America and the Caribbean, from 61% to 25% , although this is still the region where these policies remain most popular. Globally, one in five countries has policies granting subsidies or deductions to buy devices.
One in two countries have no digital skills standards in place. Education systems must clearly identify what digital skills are needed in order to prepare curricula. They cannot deliver all digital skills and have to prioritize an essential core set. An analysis of PEER country profiles shows that 88% of countries aspire to develop digital skills standards in their policies and plans. However, only 54% of countries have identified or defined digital skills for learners in a framework, policy, plan or strategy, ranging from 30% in sub-Saharan Africa to 80% in Europe and Northern America. In parallel, governments and regional and international organizations have also been developing teacher standards and competency frameworks to guide teacher development through training and coaching. According to the PEER analysis, half of the countries worldwide have set ICT standards for teachers in a competency framework, teacher training framework, development plan or strategy. It also found that one fifth of the countries with ICT standards have specified or readjusted the ICT skills expected of teachers since 2020 to reflect changes brought about by the COVID-19 disruption.
Ministries of education are often not in charge of ICT or education technology. Ministries of education should take the helm in making decisions about what technology can support learning, ensuring that pedagogical considerations hold more weight than commercial interests. The best interests of learners may be at risk where education technology companies do not come under the jurisdiction of education legislation and are seen purely through commercial law. According to the mapping of PEER profiles, a government department or agency is in charge of ICT or education technology in 82% of the countries. Yet, of those countries, the education ministry takes the lead alone only in 58%, the education ministry and another ministry share the lead in 36%, and another ministry is the sole leader in 6%.
Data protection and privacy regulations in education need quick improvement. The analysis on cyberbullying and data privacy regulations suggests that, with few exceptions, data protection standards, consumer protection laws and privacy regulations are still fragmented and opaque, hampering coherence or privacy policies for students and teachers. Only 16% of countries guarantee data privacy in education with a law and 29% with a policy, mostly in Europe and Northern America. In 41% of countries, these policies have been adopted since the COVID-19 pandemic. A new form of bullying behaviour is fuelled by access to smartphones and other devices yet, globally, only 16% of countries have adopted legislation to prevent and act on cyberbullying with a focus on education and about 40% of countries have adopted a policy, strategy or plan in this area, of which 38% did so since the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns over data privacy, safety and well-being also underpin debates about the use of some technology in schools, especially by students at young ages. The mapping suggests that 24% of countries have banned the use of smartphones in schools in either laws or policies.
PEER country profiles aim to motivate national policy dialogue and regional knowledge exchange on topics crucial to achieving SDG 4. In addition to technology, the PEER initiative has already produced five other chapters covering inclusion in education, financing for equity, climate change communication and education, regulation of non-state actors in education and comprehensive sexuality education.