Technology is reshaping our increasingly interconnected world. The use of technology in education has been growing in recent years, and saw an immense expansion during the Covid-19 pandemic as school closures promoted a mass turn to online platforms. Technology in education - often described as EdTech - takes many forms. It can include, among other features, the use of devices such as tablets, smartphones and laptops in the classroom; the use of software for teaching and homework; the use of games and platforms; virtual reality; blended face to face and computer-mediated activities; distance learning; artificial intelligence; Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs); learning machines; scripted learning via teacher tablets; and video-monitoring of classrooms.

Technology can offer the potential for the expansion of quality education, and can support the realisation of the right to education. But it also raises a series of deeply troubling issues from an ethical and human rights perspective. Who owns our data, whether we can meaningfully consent to the use of educational technology, and why and how it is being used to add to the educational experience must be questions which guide our acceptance and understanding of the use of technology in education. 

It is essential that EdTech is developed and used in accordance with human rights and the aims of education in their human rights essence, and that legal and policy frameworks are developed to protect students’ and teachers’ rights.


Digital technology had a significant presence in education prior to 2020, with the increasing use of devices, applications, games and virtual reality. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, mass school closures on every continent prompted the rapid uptake of education technology in diverse educational settings. While EdTech played an important role during this time - and allowed some learners to continue their education while face to face instruction was not possible - the speed of its adoption has led to a series of concerning developments from a human rights perspective.

Six months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the time spent by children on education apps worldwide increased by 90%. Analysis conducted by Human Rights Watch found that EdTech companies faced an unprecedented demand for their products during the pandemic. Google classroom, Google’s teacher-student communication platform, reported that the pandemic had almost quadrupled its users. This explosive demand also generated record revenues and profits for many EdTech providers.

We live in an advanced technological world, and technology holds the potential to enhance our experiences, understanding and activities. In her report on the impact of digitalization on the right to education, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education finds a number of potential benefits of EdTech, such as ‘improving access and quality, implementing inclusive learning methodologies, augmenting students’ learning experiences, developing virtual service-learning projects through which students from various countries interact, and opening lifelong learning opportunities for all through both formal and non-formal education.’ However, she goes on to note that while these benefits are impressive, they are not guaranteed and depend on the context in which they are deployed, and the policies that accompany them. 

Despite the potential for positive benefits, the use of technology in education can lead to a range of potential violations from ethical and human rights perspectives.  The UN Special Rapporteur notes that many of the risks posed are the precise opposite of potential benefits, such as increased exclusion rather than enhanced access, standardisation instead of potential personalisation, greater stereotyping rather than enhanced diversity, and  limited autonomy and freedom in place of creativity and participation. She also notes that technology in education can lead to attacks on freedom of opinion and expression and on the right to privacy, the presence of advertising and marketing in schools, and further commercialization of education which constitutes a serious danger as regards the right to quality education for all. Significant risks to data privacy also exist, and are addressed below. 

The potential for EdTech to exacerbate existing inequalities has been seen over recent years. UNICEF estimates that around two thirds of the world’s children - some 1.3 billion - do not have internet connections in their homes, and immense disparities exist in terms of access to equipment such as computers, smartphones and tablets. The lack of access to digital education can push many children out of schools, impact educational outcomes and may even cause extreme distress to children. In this sense, EdTech must be considered in terms of its risks to accessibility, to the right to non-discrimination and equality, and to the right to education.  

EdTech poses significant risks to a quality education, in terms of diminishing the central role of teachers and the need for social interactions in education. To this end, the 2023 Human Rights Council Resolution on the right to education stresses that digital technologies must not be used to replace face to face instruction. UNESCO has recognised the indispensable nature of the physical space of the school, with both the space and the human relationships between teachers and learners central for the thriving of education. 

Finally, EdTech poses risks to children’s physical, cognitive and social development; and raises concerns regarding safeguarding of learners from cyberbullying, exploitation, abuse, harmful content arising through the use of technologies in and through educational settings.

Most urgent among risks to rights posed by EdTech are those relating to privacy. 

There are huge implications regarding the use of technology in educational settings, and legal frameworks are not yet substantive enough to manage the risks posed. Research by Human Rights Watch into 150 tech products recommended by 49 governments of the world’s most populous countries during the pandemic found widespread violations of children’s privacy, including secret monitoring without consent; data harvesting on personal details, locations and relationships; tracking technologies which followed children outside of their virtual classrooms; and the sending or granting of access to third party companies, usually for advertising purposes. Some 89% of  products used engaged in data practices which either put children's rights at risk, contributed to undermining them, or actively infringed upon them. 

The dizzying scale of these violations is a warning sign as to the implications of unconsidered and unregulated technology in the classroom. EdTech is often utilised in education settings without the capacity for choice or meaningful consent regarding its use, especially when it is mandated by schools or governments. Furthermore, there is insufficient information, and/or a lack of age-appropriate information regarding the terms its use. 

EdTech products often engage in the surveillance and collection of significant amounts of data from learners, which can include their physical locations, personal details, product and programme usage, academic performance, etc; and the storage, use or sale of such data for purposes which are unrelated to education. This is particularly worrying when guided by financial motives or political interests. 

Aggravating these concerns is the widespread lack of state assessment, oversight or regulation related to the rapidly developing EdTech sector, as well as the challenges associated with ensuring accountability or access to justice in connection with EdTech-related harms.

We are currently organising the content for this page. In the meantime, please refer to our background paper for the 2023 UNESCO GEM Report on technology in education, entitled: ‘Technology and education in light of human rights’.

We began work on technology in education in 2022, and have since produced a background paper for the 2023 UNESCO GEM Report entitled ‘Technology and education in light of human rights’.

Our work currently revolves around informing, raising awareness and researching to clarify the international legal framework.