How will the pandemic affect the future of edtech?

March 1, 2022

During pandemic-related school closures, edtech proved a very effective means of continuing education when study supplies were available and teachers, students and caretakers could navigate them. The pandemic has hugely increased awareness about edtech and its possibilities. For policymakers and worldwide organizations (e.g. E.U., World Bank, OECD, U.N.), it changed the question of the implementation of edtech in school systems from whether to how. They are determined to improve the digital readiness of school systems worldwide so that they’ll be better prepared for a new crisis. What is more, they are motivated to get next generations ready for a more digitalized world, which can only be achieved if education is provided (partly) through technology.

The pandemic has not only increased awareness around edtech and its possibilities, concerns about deploying edtech have also deepened. Some of these concerns are of a practical nature, such as the so-called digital divide or privacy issues, others have more to do with pedagogy, such as the emotional poverty of distance learning and teachers’ lack of skills to deliver education digitally. Although research on the impact of hybrid/online learning due to the pandemic is ongoing, a study from NESET has already shown that student learning in Europe is expected to suffer a setback in primary and secondary education. Many learners (including high school students) are not mentally mature enough to take ownership of their learning process, which is required when students are studying at home. What is more, the pedagogical benefits of edtech, especially in primary and secondary schools were already questionable before the pandemic. For example, as many studies have shown, interactive whiteboards and iPads reduce reading and writing skills as well as the ability to understand and remember what is taught. The necessity of being crisis-ready, however, seems to be interpreted as a strong enough argument to implement edtech on a large scale nevertheless.

Burning questions:
  • Developing effective teaching methods has taken centuries; will we suffer worldwide learning loss now that edtech is being pushed forward even though the research on its effectiveness is still premature or, in some cases, in fact has proven its ineffectiveness?
  • What would be the long-term consequences on society of this learning loss?
  • Some types of education are still very low-tech (e.g. Waldorf schools): have their students fallen behind in tech-savviness while still achieving better learning results in other areas such as reading and writing?

Series 'AI Metaphors'

1. The Tool
Category: Objects
Humans shape tools.

We make them part of our body while we melt their essence with our intentions. They require some finesse to use but they never fool us or trick us. Humans use tools, tools never use humans.

We are the masters determining their course, integrating them gracefully into the minutiae of our everyday lives. Immovable and unyielding, they remain reliant on our guidance, devoid of desire and intent, they remain exactly where we leave them, their functionality unchanging over time.

We retain the ultimate authority, able to discard them at will or, in today's context, simply power them down. Though they may occasionally foster irritation, largely they stand steadfast, loyal allies in our daily toils.

Thus we place our faith in tools, acknowledging that they are mere reflections of our own capabilities. In them, there is no entity to venerate or fault but ourselves, for they are but inert extensions of our own being, inanimate and steadfast, awaiting our command.
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2. The Machine
Category: Objects
Unlike a mere tool, the machine does not need the guidance of our hand, operating autonomously through its intricate network of gears and wheels. It achieves feats of motion that surpass the wildest human imaginations, harboring a power reminiscent of a cavalry of horses. Though it demands maintenance to replace broken parts and fix malfunctions, it mostly acts independently, allowing us to retreat and become mere observers to its diligent performance. We interact with it through buttons and handles, guiding its operations with minor adjustments and feedback as it works tirelessly. Embodying relentless purpose, laboring in a cycle of infinite repetition, the machine is a testament to human ingenuity manifested in metal and motion.
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About the author(s)

At FreedomLab, Jessica's research primarily centered on the impact of technology on education and the nature of virtual reality and artificial intelligence. She is an alumna of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where she completed two degrees in philosophy and an additional research program. Integral to her personal and professional development, Jessica delves deep into literature concerning the philosophical relationships between humans and nature, and the importance of critical thinking and human autonomy vis-à-vis the impending wave of technological revolutions.

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