EdTech in schools: from promises to reality

 

Preparing future generations for the digital age is a top priority for European governments, schools, and the EdTech industry.

Over the past decade, ambitious national education plans and initiatives have been developed to integrate technology into schools. But how have these technologies actually transformed education for students, teachers, and society as a whole?

To address this question, education leaders from over 30 European countries met in Luxembourg for the fifth edition of the School Innovation Forum on June 4-5, 2024. The Forum was organised by European Schoolnet in collaboration with two agencies of the Luxembourg Ministry of Education, Children, and Youth—IFEN and SCRIPT—as well as the EU-funded project, EmpowerED.

The two-day event brought together approximately 150 participants, including representatives from national education authorities, the European Commission, school owners and leaders, research organisations, universities, and tech companies active in the field of education.

The School Innovation Forum has established itself as a meeting point for critical thinking among education experts from all sectors across Europe. Below are some of the key highlights from this exchange of ideas and insights:

Europe Needs Collaboration

Representing the European Commission, Rehana Schwinninger-Ladak, Head of Unit at DG Connect, reminded us in her welcome speech that the future will be powered by technology. She highlighted the crucial importance of equipping European schools to prepare tomorrow's citizens with the digital skills needed to succeed in the new era.

The Commission emphasised that this is a collective responsibility, and all stakeholders should play a role in this.

This idea was shares also by Jan de Craemer, Chair of European Schoolnet, who stated:

" The challenges faced by educators today are complex, requiring a collective effort to address. Partnerships between the education sector, the EdTech industry and other stakeholders are particularly valuable. By collaborating, they can develop solutions that enhance teaching and learning experiences, ensuring that technology meets the real needs of schools and teachers."

Let's Focus on Learning, Not Just Technology

One of the key takeaways of the forum, as concluded by Marc Durando, Executive Director of European Schoolnet, is that technology alone does not transform education. What truly makes a difference is the meaningful use of technology to add value to educational processes.

Marte Blikstad-Balas, Professor at the University of Oslo and Vice-Chair of the Nordic Centre of Excellence - Quality in Nordic Teaching, challenged the audience to consider why and how technology should be introduced in education. She emphasised that technology will always be shaped by its use and the purposes it serves. Technology does not inherently lead to innovative practices and can sometimes reinforce traditional practices and transmissive pedagogies. Speaking about the (new) role of education and schooling in the digital world, Professor Blikstad-Balas said:

"We have to stop talking about technology as neutral and general and bring the conversation over to learning. We need to stop assuming that use in itself is a pathway to digital competence and teach students the essential digital competencies they need. We need to continuously assess the alignment between our educational ambitions and the values in each digital tool we bring into a classroom – every time."

Some of the challenges she highlighted regarding the use of EdTech in schools included:

  • 1) Individualisation: Education is inherently social, centred on being part of a community. However, technology promotes individualisation and autonomy in the way we learn.
  • 2) Measurement: While we believe technology can help us measure effectively, apps and digital tools often focus on easily quantifiable metrics (such as speed, number of attempts, and right/wrong choices) rather than other important aspects of learning.
  • 3) Uniformisation: Many technologies used on a large scale are administrative rather than pedagogical. This raises questions about who makes the didactical choices regarding what students should read, discuss, or do, and how they should be assessed.
  • 4) Teacher Autonomy: It's crucial to ensure that teachers are prepared to think critically and creatively about technology, rather than becoming uncritical consumers of educational tools.
  • 5) Artificial Intelligence: When it comes to AI, we need to ask: if AI is great at doing all the work that does not need to be done by a human – what work would that be in a normal classroom?

Responsibility

According to Duuk Baten, Advisor for Responsible Tech at SURF, technology has the power to shape our perception we have of the world. Therefore, we can consider digital technology as an integral part of the educational process. He emphasised, "Schools have a responsibility for that technology—a responsibility in practice, not just as a theoretical concept. They must take steps to ensure that new technologies align with public values and ethics."

Overcoming the Challenges

A roundtable discussion moderated by Daniela Hau, Head of Innovation, SCRIPT, brought together diverse perspectives from both the educational and EdTech sectors on the challenges ahead in the integration of technology into the classroom as well as the following ideas to overcome them:

  • I. Bridging the Gap between business and education to drive true innovation in education.
  • II. Digital Literacy: educators and students must develop digital literacy to navigate the digital world safely and effectively.
  • III. Balancing Screen Time and traditional learning methods to optimize educational outcomes.
  • IV. Safeguarding student privacy is paramount as we integrate data-driven technologies into education. benefits.
  • V. More inspiring examples of transformative digital tool usage that enhanced learning outcomes and engaged students in unexpected ways.

Urs Bucher, President of the Digitisation Working Group of the Swiss German Conference of Primary School Authorities (DVK) and Head of the Basel-Stadt Primary School Authority, Ruben Cammaerts, Vice president of SMART Technologies Jannie Jeppesen, Chair of the European Edtech Alliance (EEA) and CEO at Swedish Edtech Industry were the panellists of the thought-provoking panel on "Technology in Education: Key Challenges and How to Overcome Them.   

Sustainability

How can investments in education and EdTech be sustainable? In a panel discussion, representatives from Kennisnet, Microsoft, and Google discussed the importance of using data and evidence to forecast educational needs. They discussed the necessity of demonstrating the value and efficiency of technology in schools by measuring outcomes.

Several EU projects are also supporting the sustainability of investments in EdTech. For instance, the EmpowerED project helps consolidate and amplify the efforts of existing EdTech organisations by providing training and capacity-building opportunities. Additionally, it assists these organisations in navigating the fragmented European education landscape, which can limit their ability to test their products in a variety of settings.

The project is mapping the EdTech landscape in Europe to reflect the current state of the sector. Its aim is to provide policymakers with a deeper understanding of how they can better support and collaborate with start-ups and SMEs in the rapidly expanding EdTech ecosystem.

Sharing and learning

A compelling example of responsible and valuable technology use in schools was presented by Martin Sønderlev Christensen, Head of the Institute for Didactics and Digitalisation at University College Copenhagen. He introduced SKOLEGPT, an AI chatbot prototyped and built on open-source frameworks. The model and service are hosted within a secure national digital infrastructure via the Danish Library Centre (DBC).

"SkoleGPT is an educational resource for AI related teaching in primary and secondary schools, allowing didactic and pedagogical research and development in teaching with AI. It is a platform for multiple projects related for teaching with and about AI." Martin explained.

On the second day of the forum, various school leaders shared their experiences on how technology is introduced and utilised in classrooms for the benefit of students, teachers, and the entire school community. We heard from representatives of Dominican College Griffith Avenue in Dublin (Ireland), Expedition ScioSchool in the Czech Republic, KC Magenta Elementary School - Brigantijn Foundation in the Netherlands, and Aline Mayrisch School in Luxembourg. The latter also organised a guided visit, showcasing their innovative teaching and learning pedagogies and practices.

Marc Durando, Executive Director at European Schoolnet, emphasised the importance of identifying and sharing good practices in deploying educational technology in schools.

"It is of paramount importance to support the emergence of good practices, to characterise and validate them and to share them with the school and teacher community. But we should not forget that what is important in terms of transfer is not the innovation itself but the processes which led to this innovation."

A notable example of learning through the sharing of practices is the work done by the Interactive Classroom Working Group of European Schoolnet. They are currently preparing 17 case studies on how various schools are fostering students' digital literacy. These studies also examine the roles of school principals, ICT coordinators, and other school leaders, and their impact on digital education.

The event facilitated the exchange of ideas on core topics of the education agenda through well-attended and engaging sessions. Key topics included:

  • Topic 1: Technology use in schools and wellbeing of students and teachers 
  • Topic 2: AI in education; promises and challenges 
  • Topic 3: Education and public-private partnerships
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More information about these topics with the outcomes of the sessions will be available soon on this page.

Special Thanks

European Schoolnet extends special thanks to Christian Lamy, Director of the National Education Training Institute (IFEN), Luxembourg, and Luc Weis, Director of the Department for the Coordination of Educational and Technological Research and Innovation (SCRIPT), Luxembourg, for their collaboration and support in organising the forum. Their involvement underscores the commitment of our Network of Ministries of Education to supporting and promoting the work and mission of European Schoolnet.

  • Watch the wrap-up video of the 2024 edition of the School Innovation Forum

 

 

 

 

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