After Covid, will digital learning be the new normal ? | Schools | The Guardian
For some, the resulting global edtech boom is long overdue. Andreas Schleicher, head of education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has described the pandemic as creating “a great moment” for learning. In May, New York governor Andrew Cuomo publicly questioned why physical classrooms still exist at all, as he announced that former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Bill Gates would help rethink education in the state.
Sceptics, however, warn that a “digital divide” further widens existing attainment gaps and inequalities faced by disadvantaged children. Others say schools are ill-equipped to protect their pupils’ data, and that the growing role of commercial interests both within state education and through a booming direct-to-consumer edtech market amounts to privatisation by stealth.
Le covid ou la stratégie du choc
Critics like the writer Naomi Klein say the tech giants were quick to see Covid-19 as an opportunity to accelerate their ambitions in education. In June, for example, Microsoft published a position paper called Education Reimagined. It starts: “The fallout from Covid-19, continuing advances in digital technology, and intensifying pent-up demand for student-centred learning have combined to present an unprecedented opportunity to transform education across whole systems.”
Big data de l’éducation
Schleicher dismisses such fears. “When you watch Netflix you contribute to the data systems and that will help with customisation. That’s how big data works. I don’t think we should put education in a different box.”
Privatisation progressive de l’école
Edtech companies, both large and small, have seen major user number growth thanks to Covid-19. Critics fear this could lead to the erosion of some core principles of state provision. “If we understand privatisation as the provision by the private sector of services traditionally provided by the state, then during the pandemic, a vast part of schooling in the UK has been privatised,” says Ben Williamson, an education researcher at the University of Edinburgh. “Getting into schools, at very large scale, positions Google, Microsoft and others to keep rolling out their new model of ever-more digital schooling, based on data analytics, artificial intelligence and automated, adaptive functions.”
La voie du milieu : les technocritiques
Those voicing concerns stress they are not against digital tools per se. Rather they question the growing role of those with financial interests in edtech in determining how they are used and in shaping the way schools are run. “Big-tech billionaires have an oversized influence in shaping education policy,” says Watters. “Some of these companies pay very, very low taxes, and their responsibilities are to start contributing properly in taxes, not to provide free Chromebooks. We need schools to be more about what the public wants and not what edtech companies want them to look like.”