COVID 19 underscores the need for coherent digitalized education

Artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things and virtual reality (VR) are changing how many industries operate and how we go about our lives, communicate, work, deliver healthcare and learn.

More digital resources tools, apps, games, AR and VR are used in schools
Technology is becoming increasingly important in education

There has never been a more important and relevant time in history for such innovative technologies, as the world adjusts to living with the global pandemic.

The new classroom

COVID 19 has caused governments to close schools and tertiary institutions temporarily, affecting 91% of the world’s student population, According to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is monitoring this unprecedented situation.

Many sectors, including education are rethinking how they work and prepare for a different future. All the while, parents are juggling working from home and assisting their children with distance learning.

A booming industry

At the same time, research by HolonIQ, a global education market intelligence firm, estimates the total global education expenditure to reach USD 8 trillion by 2025. It notes that education technology expenditure, fuelled by artificial intelligence (AI), is expected to double, reaching USD 341 billion by 2025. Its data indicates that despite an 11% annual growth, today's education industry will leave 500 million students behind without serious and immediate transformation.

The digital divide

No-one knows how long this situation will last, but it raises urgent questions. How equipped are education institutions to conduct entire curriculums remotely? How will testing and teaching happen in the new classroom? For anyone living remotely for whatever reason, how can we ensure every home environment is adequately equipped so that no one misses out on a quality education?

The UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 Quality education, aims to ensure that all girls and boys have access to and finish their free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education. It looks to ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university regardless of gender, disability or race.

For those with the technology it has been possible to follow classes at home during the pandemic, but for those without appropriate devices and reliable internet, learning has been severely affected.

Standards are key to the future of education

“To assist in closing the divide in education we need to make sure that devices and tools available for the learners can be used regardless of where they are located, the tools used by their educational institution, and their preferences for how educational experiences are delivered.

The only way to ensure this is to strengthen the work of standardization so that all technologies used are interoperable and ensure that they adapt to the learners’ abilities and the devices they have access to.

Only global standards can deliver on this promise, which is why global standardization for learning, education and training technologies are so important. When learning technology supports everyone in getting access to quality education, then we are supporting SDG 4, but implicitly laying the foundations for all other SDGs as well”, says Erlend Øverby, who leads IEC and ISO standardization work in the area of IT for learning, education and training (ITLET) in Subcommittee 36.

e-tech talked with Øverby to learn how standards can contribute towards the effective digitalization of this industry.

How are disruptive technologies affecting current education systems?

Technology is becoming increasingly important in education as more digital resources tools, apps, games AR and VR are deployed. One idea is that it can better support learners and provide a more adapted and individualized learning path. Resources based on an individual’s experiences, knowledge and goals of what needs to be learned would help everyone reach full potential.

This will not happen if schools continue with the teacher, text book, classroom, black board or get tied into one closed ecosystem of technology. We need to acknowledge that schools will change how they operate as we start to use technology. They will need to realize that they are part of an “industry” that has common requirements for how the technology they apply should work. Additionally, the use of technology should not affect how teachers choose to educate, by restricting their pedagogical freedom. If implemented appropriately, it should support teachers in their daily activities, and be the tool improves schools, teaching and education.

Schools need to understand that they rely on a technological infrastructure and make it work to meet their goals rather than adapting to the specific technology. The technology should be free of pedagogical and cultural bias so it can be adapted and used everywhere, regardless of political, religious and pedagogical practice. If the infrastructure works everywhere it would lower the cost of system implementation and use. Standards will play an important role in making this promise a reality.

How can standards contribute?

Digital learning resources ranging from simple web pages to highly interactive 3D virtual reality (VR) models are replacing text books. Students can work in classrooms, or remotely, using digital conferencing tools and chatrooms to share and build knowledge. Additionally, digital tools are used to plan and prepare classes, track learning development, do assessments and exams. Technology is becoming a critical part of almost all aspects of schools and educational institutions.

All digital learning activities produce data, which need a higher level of privacy protection than other sectors, because most learners are under age 18. AI technologies can use this data to provide insights into areas where students could improve, such as the applicability of different resources to different learning strategies, and also to support teachers.

Students roam freely in the global education community, study at different universities, and need their curricula activities and records to follow them seamlessly. There is a need for systems and standards that help students manage and maintain their own student records.

All of these activities and many more require harmonization and interoperability of information and communication technologies. Specific international and regional standards help to ensure that educational systems meet today’s requirements and those of the future.

We know from social media and other digital services used by most people, that data we provide from using these services have a huge value. As adults we use these services voluntarily, knowing that the data we provide are sold to add value for advertising among other things. Our data, generated by these services, becomes the product being sold to 3rd party. However, in most education settings, the use of digital tools is not voluntary. Thus, it is crucial to protect data produced in a learning context and ensure privacy.

One aspect of learning includes exploring, failing, playing role games and testing limits etc. It would be unfortunate if data from such activities were sold to third parties for profiling children. How we govern data produced by learners within our educational systems is important, for privacy but also the trust we have to the educational institutions.

We should develop technologies and standards that ensure privacy, and if learning data is used for other purposes, parents must first give their consent. A principle should also be established that all data produced by learners be managed and governed by those who would benefit from the value of this data – namely the schools and educational institutions. We are in the process of developing standards within this domain.

In the coming years as more innovative technologies and new services come into play, there will be education-specific requirements for the cloud, AI technologies, accessibility, interoperability, infrastructure, security and privacy. For these requirements to enable innovation and development of new services, they should be based on global standards that ensure a basic level of interoperability.

What are some of the challenges around student data?

Education, like many industries is benefitting from valuable insights gained through data analytics, but it could provide better value for students, teachers, schools and parents if it had a collective view of all the data produced. Schools should take control of the governance of all data produced by their students and manage data use with a consent system. This would establish trust, ensure data privacy and security and clarify issues such as who owns it and how and where it can be used.

Regulations must also be adhered to. For example, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires parental consent to use data produced by children. If you want to use the data for a different purpose you need parental consent again. This creates the need for multiple consents to do different things with the same data. It will not work if data is stored in different distributed services, each requiring consent before data could be shared.

If the school were to govern the data which were used to create better value for children, then parents would only need to give or withdraw consent once to use the data generated by all applications. This would be easier for everyone and enable new services that create value from the data.

SC 36 will develop standards which can achieve this kind of structure, to address many of these issues and enable better, safer use of technology in our schools and educational systems.