On 24 June, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Ms Koumbou Boly Barry, presented her new report ‘Impact of Digitalization of education on the right to education’ at the 50th session of the Human Rights Council.
The report carefully weighs the impact of digitalisation, emphasising the potential advantages of technology including participation and autonomy in a digital world; enabling personalised teaching and learning; providing digital solutions for crises including conflicts, epidemics and natural disasters; and gathering data to enhance the implementation of the right to education.
However, Ms Boly Barry also cautions about the risks posed by digitalisation, including rising inequalities; growing involvement of commercial actors in education; datafication and surveillance; threats to face-to-face education; the standardisation of education to the detriment of cultural diversity; threats to the role of teachers as creative professionals and full partners; undermining structural approaches and debates; and the unknown interplay of education, technology and health.
The Special Rapporteur is also clear that digital technologies are not a panacea for the issues faced by education systems. Indeed, she stresses that, prior to introducing digital technologies, an ethical-pedagogical reflection that enables an understanding and situating of impact is necessary. Any digital solutions implemented must be relevant and of quality, and thus “the debate does not simply concern whether technologies are introduced or not, but rather when, how and to what extent, considering positive and negative consequences and their impact on human rights. The best interests of students should always be a primary consideration”. Indeed, she firmly reinforces the need for digital solutions to further the ‘Four As’ framework (Availability, Accessibility, Acceptability, Adaptability).
In summary, the report stresses the importance of digitalisation serving to advance the implementation of the right to education and adding value to existing practice, and cautions against the potential negative consequences of digitalization if not appropriately managed and harnessed to support development, learning and the locally and culturally specific needs of different and marginalised populations.