Digital tech in education: adapt, empower and innovate
Access to data and digital technologies disrupt the traditional paradigm of education and engage the beneficiaries of education in transformative experiences, from having options on what they will learn and how the learning outcomes will benefit them to being part of a global community of people passionate about a specific topic.
Data in education can be used to identify challenges, to brainstorm solutions and to implement new ideas. Large-scale consultation processes could be started and individual-tailored educational paths could be designed and even followed using digital technologies. The digital world is here, it is today and it is part of the real life.
Access to quality education, innovation in the formal educational sector and making use of informal and non-formal education are some of the priority areas that could be transformed by the digital world once you have access to data and accept it as part of the everyday life.
Educational resources provided in marginalized areas, including rural and remote areas, if the technical IT&C infrastructure exists, can expand horizons and to create new opportunities. This includes not only access to course materials and information, but also access to the outside world as virtual learning opportunities, newest scientific information and long distance peer to peer learning.
Personalised educational solutions are no longer dreams or visionary ideas, but a prerequisite to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Students, together with educators and parents, have the possibility to tailor their education to meet their career goals and to acquire a comprehensive set of skills useful for the labour market or for the entrepreneurial arena. But there are still challenges to this matter: how to make the extraordinary ordinary and to ensure access to adequate technology, opportunity diffusion and a quality operationalization and integration within the wider educational framework?
While I was attending the Africa Talks Jobs continental dialogue in Addis Ababa, I was glad to see a pragmatic future-oriented approach on jobs, education and future, not the automation apocalypse approach. Panels and workshops on forecasting skills demand and shaping the future world of work tried to assess the future labour market and to identify solutions to current gaps. Until 2030, 15 to 20 million well-educated young people will join Africa’s workforce every year, according to the World Economic Forum, and the demand for STEM and ICT skills will remain strong. Therefore, there is enough space for predictive analytics, for machine-complementary educational solutions, cognitive systems and distance learning to make sure that today’s student will be prepared for tomorrow’s jobs.
In education, access to date and digital technologies empower individuals and organisations. Empowerment in everyday life is a process or strategy focused on increased autonomy, sense of initiative and active citizenship, self-determination and assumed responsibility. If we overcome the limits imposed by access to technology, considering also the gender dimension of access to technology, data has the potential to empower the beneficiaries of the educational system. How?
At individual level, the student is not left behind and discovers in a more facile and faster way its learning abilities, as well as the competencies needed for prospective jobs. A wide array of options in terms of skills development and talents adapted to the learning environment opportunities could be suggested, while personalized learning solutions could improve students’ engagement in and out of the classroom and reduce the dropout rates, following a learning path responsive to learners’ feedback and market trends. Moreover, digital technologies could answer to some of the questions related to the quality of education and access to a quality teaching process.
A second dimension of data for education is the potential of collaborative processes, from online learning environments, information sharing and access to digital libraries and other resources to comparative use of learning outcomes and process assessment. Learning communities focused on a specific topic could foster knowledge and develop competences and, in the same time, promote peer-to-peer evaluation and reflection.
Global education is another element of empowerment brought by date in education. There are few elements that could be analysed here: 1) access to content, curricula, programs and policies and other relevant information available worldwide, 2) promotion of a set of skills relevant on the global marketplace, 3) data collection and analysis that could be used to address specific education and skills development needs and to create tailored learning solutions for individuals, either students or educators.
By adding an innovation dimension of data for education, limitless possibilities can be generated by experts, innovators, policymakers and other engaged stakeholders. Some of the above mentioned concepts (big data, predictive analytics, cognitive systems) are playing a crucial role in defining the future of education and skills development.
As an example, the national U-Report programmes of UNICEF improve community participation by providing an opportunity to speak out on development issues to millions of members of the U-Report community. The social text messaging tool provides real-time data on education, health, youth unemployment, emergency situations and more through a voluntary, individual and confidential reporting mechanism.
The Massive Open Online Courses movement reached 58 million of students in 2016, with almost 7.000 available courses, according to Class Central. From virtual classroom to an open massive learning experience, the MOOCs are offering now a wide range of options: paid or unpaid, credits, specializations or degrees, different learning paths.
Data analytics is another topic of interest. Tracking data usage could be used to identify learning behaviour, teaching strategies and personalized learning and assessment paths. Other metrics could be used to take evidence-based decisions, to communicate and to identify trends or situations in need of different interventions.
The digital technologies are here and application scenarios have been developed. Questions related to connectivity, internet penetration and access to technology, integration of digital technology in the activity of citizens, governments, businesses and other stakeholders, and the human capital dimension within a digital society remains among the challenges of today. And within a wider spectrum, how do we ensure an equitable access and diffusion of the digital world? How could we capitalize the digital dividends? If we are talking about data and digital technologies in education, there are also some human rights and intergenerational questions. Should we start seriously the discussion about universal digital rights?
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