Technology is still not used much in the classroom despite the hype

In the past 20 years, learners, educators and institutions have widely adopted digital technology tools. The number of students in massive open online courses reached at least 220 million in 2021. The language learning application Duolingo had 20 million daily active users in 2023 and Wikipedia had 244 million page views per day in 2021.  Meanwhile, globally, the percentage of internet users rose from 16% in 2005 to 66% in 2022. And yet, although about 50% of the world’s lower secondary schools were connected to the internet for pedagogical purposes in 2022, and digital technology has been used in poorer countries, and among some of the most marginalized people in the world, this blog shows that its use in education is still limited.

Even in the richest countries, ICT is not used frequently in classrooms. According to the 2018 PISA Assessment, only about 10% of 15-year-old students used digital devices on average for more than one hour per week in mathematics and science lessons.  Denmark was the only country where more than half of students reported using digital devices for over an hour in both subjects. The next highest were Australia and Sweden, with about one in three students in both countries reporting such use in science, but less in mathematics.

Other surveys looked at in the 2023 GEM Report confirm this finding. According to the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), fewer than one in four students on average attended schools where science teachers carried out computer activities at least once or twice a week. The average prevalence did not increase between grades 4 and 8. More than two in three students were in schools that included computer activities in grade 8 science classes in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. By contrast, fewer than 5% of students attended such schools in Cyprus and France.

In the 2019 Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM), technology was not used extensively for teaching and learning, with 90% of teachers in Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic reporting ‘never’ or ‘hardly ever’ using ICT for teaching mathematics.

Low use is not linked to low accessibility to resources: The 2018 ICILS showed that considerable ICT resources were available in the 12 participating education systems, all but one from high-income countries. About 60% of grade 8 students – but 83% in Uruguay and over 90% in Denmark and Finland – studied in schools whose ICT coordinators reported there were practice programmes or applications. Single- or multi-user games were available to 5 in 10 and 3 in 10 students, respectively. Simulation and modelling software for classroom use were available for 42% of students, but this number ranged from 8% in Italy to 91% in Finland.

Academic and market research sources provide complementary evidence on the characteristics of education technology products while not always clearly distinguishing whether they are also being used in classrooms. A global mapping of over 300 education technology products found that two thirds of them focused on student-led self-learning, lesson delivery and

lesson preparation. Analysis in Pakistan looked at 48 digital learning tools from 17 organizations, the fastest growing of which were active in profitable areas, such as examination preparation. An in-depth mapping of 50 digital learning platforms and tools in Latin America found that 14 tools used personalization to adapt to student learning levels, 12 used AI or machine learning, and 21 used gamification or play-based learning.

Finally, a review of 40 out of over 1,000 personalized learning solutions in low- and middle-income countries categorized them by education purpose and setting. It found that almost two thirds were designed for supplemental learning only, offering multiple content, practice exercises, assessments and games, while three quarters could be used both in school and at home.

So far, few countries are integrating AI in their education systems. Analysis of 24 national strategies launched between 2016 and 2020 found that while most discussed how to use education to develop expertise in this field, only one third highlighted integration of AI into teaching and learning. India and Kenya aspired to integrate AI to improve quality, while Malta and Spain viewed AI more as a complement to education to free up teacher time. Another global survey found that only 11 of 51 countries had developed and implemented AI curricula,

Another major initiative is resourcing ‘smart’ classrooms, expanding digital infrastructure and enhancing interactivity through multimedia modes. China launched Smart Education Pilot Zones in 2019 to pursue various objectives for demonstration purposes, including using AI and big data to assess student learning and offering personalized services for teachers and students. In Guyana, the 2021 ICT in education policy and master plan aimed to provide computer labs and smart classrooms in primary and secondary schools. More resources are being allocated through the Support for Educational Recovery and Transformation Project for interactive screens and projectors in grades 2 to 6.

In Rwanda, between 2016 and 2021, about half of the secondary schools were covered by the Smart Classroom initiative, equipping them with laptops connected to the internet as well as a projector.

The 2023 Southeast Asia report on technology and education contained a few examples of countries that are integrating artificial intelligence in their education systems with the goal of improving teaching and learning processes. In Singapore, the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy and the EdTech Plan promote artificial intelligence for personalizing teaching and learning through national learning platforms. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic developed a Machine Learning Education Framework in 2020 and adopted a Use-Modify-Create approach, according to which students engage with and modify software to create new software.

This all means that the extent to which technology has transformed education needs to be debated.

Change resulting from the use of digital technology is incremental, uneven and bigger in some contexts than in others. The application of digital technology varies by community and socioeconomic level, by teacher willingness and preparedness, by education level, and by country income. Except in the most technologically advanced countries – and even then – computers and devices are not used in classrooms on a large scale. Technology use is not universal and will not become so any time soon.

This means that consideration is needed before paying too much attention on technology in education, which usually comes at a high cost. Resources spent on technology, rather than on classrooms, teachers and textbooks for all children in low- and lower-middle-income countries lacking access to these resources, are likely to lead to the world being further away from achieving the global education goal, SDG 4. Some of the world’s richest countries ensured universal secondary schooling and minimum learning competencies before the advent of digital technology. While children’s education is unlikely to be as relevant without digital technology, they can – and millions do -learn without it. This should empower governments to ensure that when they choose what technology to use in education – and how – that they do so ‘on their terms’.  Clear objectives and principles such as those proposed in the four-point compass in the 2023 GEM Report, are needed to ensure that when choices are made to use technology in school, its use is of benefit and avoids harm.



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