In a recent report, UNESCO has called for a worldwide ban on smartphones in schools due to the detrimental impact of excessive mobile phone use on students’ learning. The report emphasizes the need for a “human-centered vision,” where digital technology, including smartphones and computers, serves as a tool rather than taking the main spot in the classroom.
The focus should be on learning outcomes, not digital inputs.UNESCO
The Global Education Monitoring (GEM) 2023 report, titled “Technology in Education: A Tool on Whose Terms?” puts forward four essential questions that policymakers and educators should carefully consider as educational technology gains widespread use and prominence worldwide. It recommends that technology should be introduced into education on the basis of evidence showing that it would be appropriate, equitable, scalable, and sustainable.
[The digital revolution] must be for enhanced learning experiences and for the well-being of students and teachers, not to their detriment.Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO
According to the report, excessive use of information and communication technology (ICT) is negatively correlated with student performance, as suggested by large-scale international assessment data such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Despite evidence in 14 countries showing that even being close to a smartphone has been linked with students being distracted in the classroom, only 1 in 4 countries globally have banned smartphone use in schools. A few countries that have taken steps to limit smartphone use in educational settings include France, Italy, Finland, and the Netherlands.
“We need to learn about our past mistakes when using technology in education so that we do not repeat them in the future”, said Manos Antoninis, Director of the Report. He emphasized that children should be taught to live both with and without technology, extracting relevant information while disregarding unnecessary distractions. “To let technology support, but never supplant human interactions in teaching and learning”, he added.
Traditional classroom materials, such as paper and encyclopedias, have been replaced with screens and online resources, over the past two decades. The Covid-19 pandemic further accelerated the technological revolution in classrooms, leading to a transition to online learning for millions of students worldwide.
While UNESCO acknowledges that some changes, such as technological advancements, are beneficial, it warns against an excessive focus on technology at the expense of classroom resources, teachers, and textbooks. The agency believes that investment in technology should be directed toward improving educational infrastructure, especially in low and lower-middle-income countries that lack access to essential resources.
Too much attention on technology in education usually comes at a high cost.UNESCO
The digital divide was exacerbated during the pandemic, with an estimated 500 million students worldwide being left out of online-only education, particularly affecting marginalized communities with limited access to electricity and the Internet. The report highlighted a substantial geographical disparity in online resources that favor Europe and North America. To address this disparity, UNESCO calls for setting benchmarks for connecting schools to the Internet by 2030, with a primary focus on marginalized communities.
The report also raises concerns about data privacy in educational technology. UNESCO highlights that only 16% of countries ensure data privacy in the classroom through legal regulations, leading to potential misuse of data for non-educational and commercial purposes. It also showed the need for teacher training programmes covering cybersecurity, since of ransomware attacks target education.
While technology can offer significant opportunities for education, UNESCO emphasizes the need for impartial evidence regarding its effectiveness. The report urges countries to develop curricula that include digital literacy and critical thinking skills to equip students and teachers alike, for the future, especially in the context of the growing influence of artificial intelligence.