What you need to know about digital learning and transformation of education

Digital technology has become a social necessity to ensure education as a basic human right, especially in a world experiencing more frequent crises and conflicts. During the COVID-19 pandemic, countries without sufficient ICT infrastructure and well-resourced digital learning systems suffered the greatest education disruptions and learning losses. This situation left as many as one third of students around the world without access to learning during the school closures for more than a year. The COVID-19 education disruption clearly revealed the urgent need to ally technologies and human resources to transform schooling models and to build inclusive, open and resilient learning systems. UNESCO supports the use of digital innovation in expanding access to educational opportunities and advancing inclusion, enhancing the relevance and quality of learning, building ICT-enhanced lifelong learning pathways, strengthening education and learning management systems, and monitoring learning processes. To achieve these goals, UNESCO works to develop digital literacy http://waterbotics.org and digital competencies with a focus on teachers and students.

What is UNESCO’s approach to this work?

UNESCO takes a humanistic approach to ensure that technology will be designed to serve people in accordance with internationally agreed human rights frameworks, and that digital technologies will be leveraged as a common good to support the achievement of SDG 4 – Education 2030 and to build shared futures of education beyond 2030. UNESCO promotes digital inclusion to centre most marginalized groups including females, low-income groups, people with disabilities as well as linguistic and cultural minority communities. UNESCO guides international efforts to help countries understand the role that technology can play to accelerate progress toward the education goal, Sustainable Development Goal 4, as envisioned in the 2015 Qingdao Declaration and the 2017 Qingdao Statement, 2019 Recommendation on Open Educational Resources, 2019 Beijing Consensus on AI and Education, and 2021 UNESCO Strategy on Technological Innovation in Education (2022 - 2025). UNESCO supports its Member States to design, integrate and implement effective national policies and masterplans on digital learning making sure activities on the ground answer the needs of each country and community with a special focus on disadvantaged populations.

The Organization strengthens its observatory function of emergent technological transformations and their implications for education through producing and disseminating knowledge and recognized frameworks, such as Guidelines for ICT in Education Policies and Masterplans, Artificial Intelligence and Education: Guidance for Policy-makers, Guidelines on the Development of Open Educational Resource Policies, the UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for Teachers (ICT-CFT), K-12 AI curricula: A mapping of government-endorsed AI curricula, and the UNESCO Guidance for teachers on distance learning. It also promote grass-rooted best practices through the UNESCO King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize for the use of ICT in Education, best practices on OER, best practices in mobile learning and on AI and education. Finally, UNESCO organizes international conferences including Mobile Learning Week and the International Forum on AI and education.

What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are teaching, learning or research materials that are freely accessible to everyone. UNESCO supports their development and use, and undertakes work to develop indicators to monitor and evaluate their use and impact, facilitating the creation of national OER policies. UNESCO developed and adopted international consensuses and instruments including The Paris OER Declaration 2012 and UNESCO Recommendation on OER, as well as provides guidelines on the development of OER policies, and provides technical support for Member States to develop strategies on adopting OER. The Organization also cooperates with partners on providing openly available and high-quality reading resources to children in the language they speak at home through the Global Digital Library and Translate a Story campaign.

What is the role of Artificial Intelligence in education and how does UNESCO support it?

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to address many big challenges in education as well as bringing innovation to teaching and learning practices. At the same time, the application of these technologies must be guided by the principles of inclusion and equity. UNESCO supports Member States to harness the potential of AI to achieve the Education 2030 Agenda while using a human-centred approach. It focuses on AI’s role addressing inequalities regarding access to knowledge, research and diversity of cultural expressions to ensure it does not widen technological divides within and between countries. In line with the 2019 Beijing Consensus on Artificial Intelligence and Education and the 2019 International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Education, UNESCO has developed Artificial Intelligence and Education: Guidance for Policy-makers for practitioners and professionals in policy-making and education communities currently available in the six UN languages.

How does UNESCO work to ensure women and girls are better represented in digital disciplines?

Gender inequalities in access to new technologies impacts the competencies and future professional development of women and girls in digital disciplines, which also leads to gender bias in the development of AI and technological tools. Indeed, women and girls are underrepresented in ICT disciplines, in the ICT sector, and in AI development with 80 per cent of software development created by male-only teams. UNESCO leverages partnerships such as the UNESCO-Huawei Technology Enabled Open Schools for All project to help expose girls to technology early on at the school level, train them for the technological sector and support their studies in AI and new technologies.

Why is technology so important in times of crises like COVID-19?

UNESCO has been working to mitigate the impact of education disruption and school closures. Effective distance learning solutions have allowed teachers and policy-makers to continue with the national lesson plans using the digital and technological resources at hand. In this regard, UNESCO has developed several tools which offer best practices, innovative ideas and recommendations with Guidance on distance learning and Distance learning solutions.Beyond the response to the current crisis, the efforts to deploy distance learning at scale across all levels of education provides valuable lessons and may lay the foundation for longer-term goals of building more open, inclusive and flexible education systems after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided.