Characterized by a variety of contexts, Southeast Asia has experienced a rapid growth in the application of digital technology. A new regional report produced in partnership by the GEM Report and the Southeast Asia Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), with the contribution of the EdTech Hub, building on the global 2023 GEM Report released in July, shows that this growth is changing the way education is being delivered in the region.
There are an estimated 400 million internet users in the region. In 2020 alone, 40 million people went online for the first time. This expansion has been identified for its potential to transform education and meet the region’s development aspirations, in particular in personalized tutoring and testing, learning management systems, language learning, and skills development. However, the report cautions that technology is not a blanket solution for addressing major education challenges. As at the global level, its potential for improving teaching and learning needs to be proven.
Launched on the sidelines of the 46th High Officials Meeting of SEAMEO, the report covers 11 countries: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Viet Nam. Extensive background research informs the regional analysis: 9 country case-studies were compiled by local research teams and independent experts; 5 thematic studies were produced by SEAMEO centers covering open and distance learning, technology for students with disabilities, integration of technology in teaching practices, key policies issues in ICT in education; and technology in technical and vocational education and training; and 3 research inputs on ICT in education practices produced by SEAMEO affiliate members and partners.
The regional report recognizes the emphasis given to technology in Southeast Asia for socioeconomic development, which has been reflected in an expansion of school and learner internet connectivity and a focus on digital skills development. ICT has significantly expanded education and learning opportunities for many who are otherwise excluded, yet the benefits for learners from these developments have been uneven, varying by socioeconomic level, education level and teacher preparedness. Students from the richest households in the region are almost eight times more likely to be connected at home than the poorest students. Only half of rural primary schools are connected to the internet.
The report cautions that, as at the global level, discussions about education technology tend to focus on technology as a generic solution. They should instead focus on what are the education problems that need to be solved – and only then should it be asked whether technology can help tackle these problems. The conditions need to be right for investments in education technology to result in education outcomes. In Thailand, for example, over 800,000 tablets were distributed to primary schools but were then later discontinued due to implementation challenges.
Digital literacy has become an essential part of a modern basic skill set. But while the need to teach about technology is clear, teaching through technology needs to prove its value – and evidence is thin. Even companies do not always prove the effectiveness of their products: less than 10% of education technology companies operating in Indonesia could produce evidence of their products’ impact on learning.
Three particular conditions for the region are highlighted as necessary for the potential of technology in education to be fulfilled: equitable access to technology, appropriate governance and regulation, and sufficient teacher capacity.
Regulations are particularly critical to protect children’s wellbeing given the rise of digital technology. In Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, 70% of surveyed adolescents reported upsetting experiences associated with online activities. Meanwhile, about 30% of students in Viet Nam reported increasing distractions, such as browsing social media and playing video games, while using technology to study. Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Viet Nam have introduced some forms of restrictions on the use of smartphones in schools as a result.
Protection of children’s data is also needed. Education technology applications in the region collect data on students, including location and learning activities. Yet, at present, less than one in three countries guarantee data privacy in education by law or policy.
Better support is needed so that teachers can effectively integrate technology in their teaching. In Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Viet Nam, nearly one third of primary school teachers reported feeling ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ confident in using ICT in 2019.
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