Evidence Review: Digital technologies in education during the COVID-19 pandemic Publications
This paper reports on what has been learned from the experiences of learners, teachers, schools, families and systems during and after the COVID-19 pandemic response. It provides a summary of key findings from New Zealand and international research, drawn from a synthesis of over 40 national and international reports and articles.
Author(s): Derek Wenmoth
Date Published: March 2022
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history… The crisis is exacerbating pre-existing education disparities by reducing the opportunities for many of the most vulnerable children, youth, and adults… On the other hand, this crisis has stimulated innovation within the education sector”.
UN Policy Brief1
The review has a particular focus on the role and use of digital technologies during Covid-19 lockdowns and describes how what has been learned could inform the planned refresh of the Education System Digital Strategy.
The most significant finding from the review is the importance of taking a coherent, system-wide approach to digital planning and investment. The jurisdictions able to respond most quickly and effectively to pandemic lockdowns were those where digital technologies were well embedded in day-to-day teaching and learning, and integrated systems were in place to support them. For these jurisdictions the transition to online modalities was relatively seamless, in stark contrast with others in which digital investment was fragmented and ad hoc rather than part of a system-wide plan.
Research indicates that to fully embrace the potential of digital technologies to enhance teaching, learning and administration, help ensure education continuity in the event of widespread disruption, and better protect against cyber-attacks and privacy breaches, every part of the system must be aligned and connected. When this is achieved, the following system benefits will be realised:
- Equitable access and use – closing the digital divide by ensuring digital access to all, building teacher and leader capability, and attending to learner and whānau needs and capability.
- Flexibility – exploiting the opportunity to create genuinely personalised, adaptive and flexible approaches to education delivery, including distance, blended and online learning.
- Resilience – ensuring the system has the capacity to respond with greater ease and seamlessness in the event of any future emergency.
- Systemness – describing the overall state of the education system where all interconnected parts work together to create successful outcomes.
A second significant finding is the way the pandemic response exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities. The notion of a digital divide’ features throughout the reports, denoting first, a lack of universal access to technology, and second, a lack of the skills and capability needed to use digital technologies in ways that support effective teaching and learning. The shift to learning at home widened the divide, affecting not just learners but also teachers who were under pressure to cope with an increased (and unfamiliar) workload, while managing their own and their families’ response to the pandemic.
A third key finding relates to the impact of increased exposure to digital technologies by learners and teachers working remotely. While the experience of working remotely during COVID-19 caused frustration and anxiety, resulting in a negative experience for many, for others it created new insights into what is possible and enabled them (many for the first time) to truly express themselves as learners or teachers, finding new and different ways of working that helped overcome previous barriers. The negative impacts reported as a result of increased screen time included impact on health and wellbeing, as well as exposure to risks as a result of inappropriate online behaviours or access to inappropriate materials online.
Finally, the evidence highlights the considerable potential for increased flexibility in approaches to education delivery. For countries that faced – and in many cases continue to face – prolonged school closures, online practices have become embedded and new and more effective digital pedagogies developed. These shifts have highlighted potential benefits of a future approach that is hybrid, combining the benefits of physical attendance at school with the opportunities created by including online modalities.
- Policy Brief: Education during COVID-19 and beyond; August 2020; United Nations.
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