11 July 2023

On 6 July, ESCR-Net held an online discussion entitled ‘Tech companies' inroads into critical public services’. Delphine Dorsi, RTE’s Executive Director, presented information regarding educational technology and the right to education, alongside speakers including Victoria Adelman, of the Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project, Centre for Human Rights and Justice, New York University; Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker, the Black Sash (South Africa); and Bobby Ramakant, Citizens News Service (India). 

In her presentation, Delphine Dorsi focused on the multifaceted and growing presence of technology in education (EdTech), in particular the massive expansion which occurred during and post the Covid-19 pandemic. She noted that EdTech has the potential to enhance access and quality of education, and indeed to allow for the implementation of inclusive learning methodologies and open up the potential for lifelong learning opportunities. However, as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education has flagged, these benefits are not guaranteed in any simple or direct way, and depend on the context and the policies deployed. 

Indeed, as she went on to highlight, EdTech raises issues from an ethical and human rights perspective, including as regards:

  • inequalities in access to digital education, particularly in terms of the cost of devices and restrictions in access to information and connectivity 

  • threats to face to face education, with safety and health issues due to intensive use of screens and/or lack of social contact, as well as infringement of quality education with online instruction replacing teachers.

  • the standardisation of education to the detriment of cultural diversity

  • the violations of students’ privacy due to datafication and surveillance commercial interests that may conflict with the right to education

Highlighting the massive expansion of EdTech usage during the pandemic and widespread violations of privacy and data protection, she noted the existing legal frameworks and pertinent research. Finally, she reinforced that data protection laws, which are missing in most states, are necessary for the protection of learners hen it comes to the use of digital technologies. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education have provided guidance for the development of laws and policies. Much remains to be done and there are discussions at international level necessary for the strengthening of the international legal framework.

Other speakers covered issues regarding technology and public services from a range of perspectives, highlighting different infringements on rights from a variety of national contexts.