UNESCO recently released a 427-page report on the use of technology in education around the world called the 2023 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report: Technology in education: A tool on whose terms?

In it they don’t find many positive things to say about edtech.

I haven’t made much headway into the whole paper, but just the bullet points in the Key Messages summary on the opening page left me nodding my head a lot. Much of their up-front criticism won’t come as a surprise to anyone has been involved with instructional technology for any length of time.

Starting with one basic truth that’s been ignored or glossed over going back to the beginning of edtech in the past century: “Good, impartial evidence on the impact of education technology is in short supply.”

As the writers accurately note, “There is little robust evidence on digital technology’s added value in education.”, and that most of the evidence that does exist “comes from “those trying to sell it”.

One high-profile example of this comes to mind. Around 2009, “respected educator” Robert Marzano published a paper that glorified the “effectiveness” of interactive whiteboards for improving student learning. It was later revealed to have been paid for by a major vendor of the devices.

The UNESCO report also tears into the inequity that is still very common when it comes to student access: “Technology offers an education lifeline for millions but excludes many more.”.

That applies world-wide but is true even in many corners of our overly-large school district, located in one of the richest counties in the country. We still have a large minority of students with no or poor connection to the internet as well as households in which multiple people must share the equipment necessary for that access.

While the researchers have much more to say on the topics of quality control, diversity, and the lack of both teacher training and buy-in, the final bullet point I want to highlight is one that has also been with us for almost as long as we’ve been trying to integrate tech into the classroom.

Technology is often bought to plug a gap, with no view to the long-term costs…

Like most government entities, schools and school districts budget for one year at a time. Reliably-funded, long-term thinking, especially when it comes to technology planning, just isn’t done.

However, those “long-term costs” are not just about money. The UNESCO writers say we also need to consider the risks to children’s rights and privacy in the products they use, as well as the impact on the environment from using technology with such a relatively short lifespan.

Anyway, I have no idea what kind of influence on school leaders in the US this paper might have. Or if it will even be read by more than a few of them. Maybe you could send a copy to a principal, superintendent, or other education leader and get them to at least read the executive summary.

As for me, there is much to this report that I want to dig into, starting with the chapter on Teaching and Learning. I’ll let you know what I find.

The photo at the top shows a group of DC high schools students who are studying architecture in a summer program. They are using low-tech paper and pencil to sketch what they see in the magnificent atrium of the National Building Museum. Sometimes the best tools aren’t connected to the web.