The COVID-19 pandemic supercharged reliance on connected technology and pushed education deeper into digital ecosystems. For much of 2020 and 2021, computers and internet connections temporarily replaced schools and dictated whether hundreds of millions of students could access educational opportunities.
Although many schools have reopened, the digital transformation of education continues to accelerate. More and more teaching and learning is moving to virtual spaces.
In this new context, connected technology must advance aspirations for inclusive education that facilitates sustainable development based on principles of social and economic justice, equity, and respect for human rights.
Around the world, there are promising examples of technology enlarging access to knowledge and information, enriching educational processes, and improving learning outcomes. But these examples are not common enough.
Increasingly, there are warning signs that the digital transformation of education carries underappreciated challenges. Teachers, students, and policy makers have witnessed the many ways that technology can heighten learning inequality; increase student isolation; narrow and privatize educational experiences; homogenize teaching and learning; undermine the professional autonomy of teachers; produce harmful environmental impacts; violate privacy and trust; and consolidate power and control outside public oversight.
These developments are not inevitable. New and better directions are possible.
They are also urgent.
Education cannot continue to contort to the commercial logics that have grown up around connected technology. Going forward, the reverse should be standard: connected technology should contort to support education—technology must serve the educational needs of learners, teachers, schools, families, and communities.
To help guide this effort, UNESCO is working closely with its Member States to establish shared priorities and principles to better leverage technology to make education more inclusive, more equitable, more relevant, and more engaging.
Education is too important to be left to chance. Choices and directions for the digital transformation of education should be intentional.
The RewirEd Declaration on Connectivity for Education will help steer the digital transformation of education in ways that accelerate progress towards the commitments of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Declaration will establish principles and action lines to ensure that powerful digital tools strengthen educational opportunities for all.
It will guide the education community in its common effort to ensure that connectivity supports the right to education in the ‘new normals’ emerging from the pandemic and at a moment when digital spaces are, in many contexts, becoming increasingly central to our lives and learning.
The Declaration will be put forward for endorsement at the RewirEd Summit in December 2021.