The education systems around the world have been challenged. The virus that turned the whole world upside down in early 2020 has, among other things, served to make us more aware of the major revolution that was required in the world of education. Overnight, technology, which before COVID-19 was regarded as a desirable complement at schools, became the only way for millions of children and young people to learn. The pandemic highlighted certain aspects of education systems that were outdated and outmoded, especially in developing countries, where a certain resistance to change and disconnection from a fully digital social reality had become apparent.
Some (but very few) countries had done their homework. The rest patched up the educational reality as best they could and moved on. Now is the time to capitalise on the inertia of the compulsory movement initiated during the pandemic and consolidate the hasty introduction of technology in education. Because turning back isn’t an option. So how do we go about it? What do the experts say? How have the countries that have been successful with their reforms done so?
In this article we gather together the opinions of some experts and take a look at some success stories in the implementation of technology in education systems.
How to harness the full potential that ICT has to offer for education
As of today, education hasn’t yet been able to harness the full potential of technology. At the ProFuturo Observatory we’ve asked some experts to identify the barriers that prevent education and technology from becoming the perfect binomial that we want them to be. What are the challenges to be addressed?
The vision. The first barrier is related to vision. What role do we want ICT to play in our education systems? What do we want it for? And at the service of what? According to Lucia Dellagnelo, director of CIEB, “this should be the first question we have to answer so as to truly incorporate digital technology into the educational process in the most strategic and positive way possible.
Managerial and teaching competence. The second major barrier lies in a lack of competence among managers and teachers in being able to hybridise digital in pedagogical practices. “Moving an outdated pedagogy to digital isn’t going to bring about the transformation we need in children’s learning” stated Mila Gonçalves, innovation and product manager for the ProFuturo Foundation. “If teachers don’t learn to integrate technology into their pedagogical practices, then we’ll be replacing textbooks with electronic devices. We must learn to integrate the learning experience and ICT: “Knowing, for example, that I can have a group of students researching a topic, others preparing a presentation and others revising content… but that doesn’t just depend on information and communications technology. It’s up to the teachers and the schools to decide and propose new activities”, she explained. When this is extended to the school, transforming its pedagogical project into a school EdTech project with clear leadership, a faculty that incorporates it and families that support and reinforce it from their homes, transformation through innovation and systemic pedagogical change becomes possible.
Digital educational resources. Although there’s currently a wealth of information available on the Internet, this information isn’t always coherent, aligned with learning objectives or credible. For this reason, explains Mila Gonçalves, “it’s essential to develop platforms with digital educational resources and criteria for evaluating these resources”. Access to high-quality teaching materials that teachers can use safely and securely is thus facilitated. As Lucía Dellagnelo declares, “carrying out this work of producing and supervising educational resources is essential for us if we want to guarantee qualified use of ICT in education”.
Infrastructure. The fourth barrier, and perhaps the most urgent one for all the countries in the world, remains infrastructure. “Nowadays, infrastructure is much more than bricks and mortar”, claims Folawe Omikunle, CEO of Teach for Nigeria. We’re referring to equipment, computers, tablets, mobile phones and so on in and outside the school, together with connectivity and broadband Internet access allowing the teacher and all the students to use technology fluently, easily and without too many obstacles.
Multifactorial problems require multifactorial solutions
Where can we start? What are the keys to a “successful educational revolution”? Countries can implement digital without fundamentally transforming their vision of education. They could simply leave ICT in the classroom without any clear goals for the learning processes and practices and without the teachers changing their teaching practices. If this were the case, there would be few or no results.
Alternatively, countries could transform their education systems without completing the whole reform with digital as a strategic factor. However, at this moment in the 21st century, a reform of the education system would be inconceivable without including, for example, cross-disciplinary digital skills in the curriculum. Moreover, ICT is having, according to the comparative academic literature, a significant impact on a number of central aspects and processes of educational change which would not arise without EdTech (Mateo and Lee, 2020). This is the case of the inverted or remote classroom, online tutoring, online collaborative work and computational thought. Others will be more inefficient, unsustainable and scalable or they’ll take longer (Mateo and Lee, 2020).
Therefore, the solution appears to require developing and implementing strategies that address these challenges simultaneously. In 2020, the IDB presented a publication which analysed some successful cases involving the transformation of their education systems by means of extensive (but not exclusive) incorporation of ICT. These occurred following different paths, time sequences and approaches.
For example, the Republic of Korea focused its reform on ICT. Its different master plans (up to five of them) were drawn up in accordance with the level of connectivity and the distribution of the devices and evolved as they became available in the classroom. The teacher training and curricular development were adjusted to the introduction of new learning technologies and regularly updated (Mateo and Lee, 2020).
However, the guiding focus of the reforms in Finland was the acquisition of skills and teacher training, actively incorporating technology as a means of assistance. The teachers are viewed as the protagonists and harnessed as agents of change during the reform process (Mateo and Lee, 2020).
Estonia began actively reforming education soon after its independence and implemented an approach that blended the South Korean and Finnish models. Thus, like Korea’s first two master plans, it established a plan to equip schools with digital resources and infrastructure (although it did so more rapidly) and then used the skills approach promoted in Finland by building on the digital skills of the students and teachers (Mateo and Lee, 2020).
As for Uruguay, it succeeded in doing in a decade what other countries took four decades to achieve. Drawing on experiences abroad, Uruguay chose the elements that made the most sense and adapted them to its own needs. For example, like Korea, it clearly defined the stages of implementation (infrastructure, teacher training, curricular development and skills-based learning), like Estonia, it invested heavily in infrastructure, and, like Finland, it focused its second phase on the teachers’ professional development (Mateo and Lee, 2020).
What do all these countries have in common? A multifactorial approach involving several actors. Perhaps, as Lucia Dellagnelo states, “the most important thing for the effectiveness of an educational technology policy is the ability to coordinate different simultaneous strategies so that it reaches the school. In other words, the availability of ICT, but also its qualified adoption by the actors in the school community”. In fact, all the countries mentioned above have created education technology centres that assist the ministries of education in coordinating all these actors. “It isn’t an easy policy to implement because it requires the mobilisation of different actors. Public-private partnerships are often required, but the leadership of the Ministry of Education is very important in the design and implementation of a national educational technology policy that establishes the minimum parameters of a connectivity infrastructure at a school and clearly defines the expectations and performance parameters of education professionals”.
We’re still a long way from making digital the great ally in the transformation of learning that it’s meant to be in a generalised manner. However, it’s true to say that, especially in the wake of the pandemic, all the countries have become mobilised to devise strategies that use technology more effectively and efficiently. Those that envisage the multifactorial approach in their public policies will also be the most successful ones when it comes to transforming their education, adapting it to the needs of the citizens of this new society.
Mateo Díaz, M. and Lee, C. Eds. (2020). What technology can and can’t do for education? A comparison between five success stories. Inter-American Development Bank.