- COVID-19 has highlighted how a lack of digital tools has led to a widespread loss to learning for students in developed and developing countries.
- Introducing technology to students and teachers is important, but teaching them to use it effectively is vital, write two World Bank education specialists.
- Policymakers can help this integration by transforming software and designing user-centred solutions.
Before the pandemic, there was a widely held notion that technology will revolutionize the field of education. For instance, it was commonly believed technology would alter how teachers’ instruct, but the reality, is (and was) such that not all teachers are equally enthusiastic about using technology as part of their instruction. While some may be more open to incorporate digital solutions, others present higher levels of resistance to technology integration. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic revealed how poor integration of technology has led to widespread learning loss – the trend that has been exacerbated given the limitations of in-person instruction due to school closures (among other factors).
Introducing technology to teachers tends to be the first and “easiest” step. However, when new technology is provided and teachers do not understand how to use it effectively, they are bound to be skeptical of its potential to improve their instruction. Therefore, policymakers are tasked with cultivating the digital skills needed to effectively use the technology to enhance the role of teachers, incentivizing them to use these skills as part of their practice, and critically assessing when, where, how, and if these new modalities of instruction are actually effective (and if they’re not, changing course). However, these skills are not developed in isolation or simply because the technology is available. There are several supportive factors that can help teachers adopt new technology that goes far beyond replacing the notebook for a tablet.
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Four ways policymakers can transform how teachers use technology:
1. Master ideas, not keystrokes: Most policymakers understand that the ability for teachers to effectively instruct using technology requires a combination of technological and pedagogical skills. Despite major efforts to provide large-scale trainings to cultivate such skills among teachers (see UAE for example), there has not been widespread behavior change. For instance, “fewer than half of the teachers reported frequent use of ICT when teaching” (indicates the global ICILS study, conducted prior to the pandemic). Moreover, despite widespread efforts to define and cultivate these skills, there has not been a global transformation of how teachers use technology. The pandemic has clearly shown that it is important to move away from the merely instrumental approach (how to use technology as a tool) and toward policies that cultivate a deeper change that transforms learning outside the classroom.
2. Transform the software and the mindware: Cursory evidence indicates many teachers dislike technology. Their beliefs toward integrating technology into regular classroom instruction are directly influenced by the professional development training they receive on the topic. Therefore, transforming teachers’ perspectives on the use of technology is not only necessary to access the technology and training but also to ensure it is integrated (domesticated) as part of their regular practice over time. Such efforts should not only be driven by top-down initiatives, but also (if not more importantly) by bottom-up initiatives, such as communities of practice, among other examples of teacher network initiatives.
3. Design user-centered solutions:
Policymakers need a deep understanding of how teachers use technology. Here, it is critical to systematically collect information on the environment or context in which teachers use the technology. This goes beyond simply measuring teachers’ digital skills, but deeply understanding other structural problems and concerns teachers face. Based on these inputs, policymakers need to decipher which problems can be addressed with public policy instruments and whether technology should be included as part of the solution. Policymakers should involve teachers in this process and use this information to constantly iterate on their approach.
What is the Forum doing to close the digital gap?
COVID-19 has exposed digital inequities globally and exacerbated the digital divide. Nearly half of the world is still not online.
With more basic services moving online and the pandemic highlighting affordability challenges in wealthier nations, these deep digital gaps are exacerbating inequality and preventing the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The EDISON Alliance will prioritize digital inclusion as the platform of platforms for partners with a common purpose for achieving the SDGs. Its vision is to ensure that every person can affordably participate in the digital economy.
4. Better data for better decisions: Within the context of understanding the difficulty of integrating technology in education, policymakers should regularly assess and evaluate the effectiveness of various interventions. To understand how teachers use technology and their perception of it, policymakers should regularly monitor how technology is being used and what gaps need to be addressed. In addition, understanding teachers’ practices and experience with (and without) technology will inform what is needed to effectively implement it. There are plenty of assessments that can help achieve this, including, but not limited to: Mentoring Technology-Enhanced Pedagogy Self-Assessment tool, Mydigiskills, Digital Competence Wheel, Tests Pix. Two examples of systemic evaluations that address the whole school ecosystem are: SELFIE (in the EU) or Guia Edutec (in Brazil).
The pandemic has altered how teachers instruct and how they connect with their students. More can be done to systematically cultivate the integration of technology into their instruction. We have a unique opportunity to rethink the role of teachers -- not just what technology can do for teachers or their current skillset, but how the experience of interacting with the technology motivates them and their students. Technology is simply a tool but without appropriate integration, it will not result in effective learning.