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Education technology: common ground is essential to moving forward

The head of an international union body argues teachers must be central to technological innovation

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We have seen the power of technology in the hands of professional teachers and their students, and we want to build strong policies that recognise that teachers are active agents for change in implementing and designing technology innovations.

Sound policies matter.

Key to the success of the recently approved UN Sustainable Development Goals are policies that work to free up innovation and adaptation in an inclusive, comprehensive and interdependent manner. This interdependence is critical.

At one time, there were those who believed technology would replace teachers. Although that debate is over in any serious forum, there are still those who promote expensive technologies without evidence of efficacy, and without protocols for involving teachers and governments.

Demanding education for all

There is a new strain of discussion now that seeks to persuade us of a different sort of false hierarchy – not technology instead of teachers, but the private sector over governments. Today, some global companies and investors are looking to take advantage of governments to develop enterprises that take resources from public schooling in favour of fee-based content mills led by the lowest-paid workers available.

It is time to add to that discussion the voices demanding education for all: demanding government accountability on issues like reforming global capital and finance regulations, strengthening domestic resource mobilisation, and demanding collection of taxes owed.

Strengthening representative government is a vital enterprise that we all share.

There is growing concern about large global corporations using their significant financial and political reach to influence education policy. Profit motives have no place in dictating what is taught, how it’s taught and assessed nor how our schools and colleges are organised. Teachers and students know this and so do their families. Accountable governments know this and so do responsible companies.

Sanctuaries of learning

It is essential that schools are places of learning and sanctuaries for children. As the UN special rapporteur declared last year, schools are not to be used as a marketplace for the commercial self-interest of any corporation, including the monetising of student data.

The overarching characteristic of industry/corporate involvement must be one that is transparent, that enables all students and communities, respects the teaching profession and recognises the value of equitable school systems.

Education systems should put teachers at the centre of implementing technological innovations and developing the policies that make technology most effective.

That is the conclusion of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a co-sponsor of the Global Education Industry Summit on 19-20 October, which will be attended by some two dozen education ministers and a variety of corporate, NGO and teacher organisations, including Education International.

Basing the summit discussions on evidence and experience is the right way to go. Our students, our communities and nations deserve nothing less.

Fred van Leeuwen is general secretary of Education International

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