UNICEF report reveals stagnation in access to digital learning made during the COVID-19 pandemic, as one-third of nationally developed platforms have entirely shutdown, are outdated, or no longer fully functional, limiting learning approaches to help schoolchildren recover their education.
In the Philippines, the Department of Education has a renewed focus on digital learning through its Learning Recovery and Continuity Plan. It continues to improve digital learning through the Learning Resources Portal and the DepEd Commons, along with other platforms like DepEd TV on YouTube. DepEd is consolidating all digital platforms through a National Education Portal. UNICEF Philippines is adding content to these platforms through the production of digital stories, games, apps, ebooks and videos that increase access of mainstream students and that of children with special needs.
According to UNICEF, when planned and facilitated effectively, quality, inclusive, and equitable digital learning opportunities can complement other learning approaches and help schoolchildren catch up on what they missed during the pandemic and the pre-existing learning crisis, according to the report.
“Nearly 90 per cent of National Statements of Commitment made at the Transforming Education Summit highlighted digital learning and the need to strengthen it,” said UN Special Adviser for the Summit, Leonardo Garnier. “To truly harness the potential of technology, we need to avoid simply replicating in the digital form the mistakes made in traditional in-person instruction. When applied with sound pedagogical approaches, technology can help putting learners at the center, enabling the creation of student communities bonded by common questions and interests.”
The report, Pulse Check on Digital Learning, examines the current state of digital learning by focusing on five vitals, including policies and financing, platforms and content, teachers and school leadership, digital literacy and holistic learning opportunities, with the aim of transforming education systems. It also features the first-ever mapping of 471 national platforms in 184 countries by UNICEF and EdTech Hub.
The results show promising trends across many countries, such as the development of digital platforms, reassessment of priorities, and innovative partnerships. But stagnation is putting the progress achieved during the past few years at risk of regression. Findings include:
- Although half the world’s population is still offline, over 70 per cent of platforms do not offer offline functionality. Just 49 per cent of platforms in high-income countries and 18 per cent of platforms in low-income countries can be run offline.
- Majority of platforms, 67 per cent, do not provide engaging content despite interactivity being a central component of student-focused learning, with most offering only static content such as videos and PDFs of textbooks.
- Only 22 per cent of digital learning platforms contain features to make them accessible to children with disabilities. Even among the few, the provisions are basic, such as closed captions for videos.
- Critically, 85 per cent of platforms were mobile-friendly, the most commonly available modality for learning in low- and middle-income countries.
- Most digital learning platforms (84%) offered features using all of a country’s national languages.
The report calls on policymakers, private sector, research agencies, international and local organizations, and civil society to prioritize a holistic approach to education. This includes the incorporation of digital learning in national policies and plans; increasing resources dedicated to digital learning; addressing the digital and usage divides; training and empowering teachers and school leaders, as well as learners and caregivers; and meeting schoolchildren where they are in their learning through entertaining and educational content and a mix of technologies.
“Today, governments are at a pivotal point of either failing to educate an entire generation, or making trend-altering investments in cost-effective initiatives, including digital learning, to transform their education systems,” said UNICEF Director of Education Robert Jenkins.
UNICEF is at the forefront of equitable approaches to edtech efforts, so every child is offered personalized learning through world-class digital solutions. This includes the most recent multi-partner initiative launched at the Transforming Education Summit by UNICEF and UNESCO – Gateways to Public Digital Learning – to create and strengthen inclusive digital learning platforms and content.