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Start with pedagogy: The Open University consultation on education and technology for the Global Education Monitoring Report 2023

3 women studying with a mobile phone.

This article was written by Sara Huxley (Research Student at The Open University).


On 23 November 2022, over 55 academics who specialise in education and technology met online to discuss their research, evidence, and recommendations to inform the UNESCO 2023 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report on technology and education. The event, convened by the OU's Institute of Educational Technology (IET) and Centre for the Study of Global Development (CSGD),  focused on addressing two key questions:

  1. What education problems can technology address?
  2. What conditions need to be met for technology to support education?

Examples of promising practice, future provocations and recommendations were then discussed, with particular attention given to addressing issues of access, equity, and inclusion in relation to disadvantaged groups and content. 

The consultation was facilitated by Dr Koula Charitonos (IET), who opened the session by inviting Manos Antoninis, Director of the Global Education Monitoring report, to present the concept note for the 2023 GEM report. Mr Antoninis emphasised that the report is led by an independent team in UNESCO, started in 2002, but since 2015, his team is officially mandated to monitor education as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular, SDG 4 to ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. The report is therefore one mechanism to hold member countries to account. 

Professor Akyeampong, CSGD Director, then facilitated a panel discussion amongst five academics, including two from other distance learning institutions in the Global Majority; from The Open University Professor Agnes Kukulska-HulmeTom Power, and Dr Patrina Law, with Dr Teresa Mwoma (African Council for Distance Education and Kenyatta University) and Professor Hamed Al-Awidi (Arab Open University, AOU Jordan). The panellists explored a range of questions including the role mobile technology plays in opening up educational opportunities for disadvantaged populations, and the aspects of teacher professional development that can be developed to improve learning outcomes in low-income countries, plus- how can teachers be supported to deliver this. Mr Power commented that any approach to technology and education should ‘start with the pedagogy’ – in other words to make sure that the approach to teaching - the theory and practice of learning - is relevant and appropriate for the content and phase of education. Technology alone, however innovative, will fail if the wider systems, or social ecology of the daily practices of learners and teachers, the school and the layers of government support are not all considered. 

The panel also acknowledged the importance of policies and practices to expand opportunities for open and distance learning. Dr Mwoma from Kenyatta University highlighted the importance of the African Council for Distance Education, set up in 2002, to promote policies and resources to advance distance learning. This included the development of policies on blended learning, and toolkits to develop staff delivering open and distance learning assessments. The discussion acknowledged the importance of understanding cultural contexts, and in this regard Dr Law emphasised the need to diversify technologies, stating that it’s crucial ‘not to rely on one software system or one device’ because many are so transient, citing her experience creating interactive books for Apple and iTunes users. Professor Kukulska-Hulme discussed the role that mobile technology can play in reaching disadvantaged groups, referring to mobile phone learning as ‘a potential classroom in a pocket’. Barriers restricting access, such as those related to travel costs and through specialised translation apps can be mitigated. Professor Al-Awidi commented that in the Middle Eastern context, the concept of online learning, since the COVID-19 pandemic, is now socially more acceptable.  

Following on from the panel discussion, the consultation then joined breakout sessions, with each group focusing on two guiding questions around access: ‘How can we provide education to all hard-to-reach learners including students with disabilities, refugees and migrants, rural populations, and girls?’, and secondly, ‘Technology may contribute to removing cost barriers, but also non-financial barriers such as language and qualification requirements. What role do Open Universities play in breaking down barriers to education through free educational resources?’ 

The discussion was wide ranging, including the need for educational technology to be cognisant of social practices around their use. Dr Alison Buckler (Open University) shared that there can be unintentional negative impacts of educational technology, for example, a PhD study by Dr Mohamud (Open University) considering the use of internet hubs in rural Uganda, which found that these hubs surfaced gender tensions and inter-generational violence with violent behaviours used to restrict access. This Emphasised that the social use and management of educational technology should always be considered, and not just the initial training and set up. Furthermore, Dr Buckler reminded colleagues that ‘technology’ itself can be material, and not always digital, so that in some resource poor contexts digital may not be the best option. Here she acknowledged the significance of the use of bicycles as another type of technological value add, towards supporting access issues for teachers/students.  

The session concluded with a reflection on education goals. Dr Charitonos encouraged a debate relating to scale and contextualisation; whilst there can appear to be a tension between them, does educational technology offer a way to bring these two aspects of pedagogy closer together? The group concluded that there should be even more bespoke ways of delivering educational technology, which integrate learners and teachers own perspectives into the design/use of technologies, and that this can still achieve reach. Understanding access in terms of how to include diverse and disadvantaged groups of learners, but also relevant and tailored content, remains at the forefront of the OU’s contributions towards open and distance learning goals. 

To continue this work, education and technology experts at the OU have been invited to supply examples and recommendations to the CSGD team, to create a short output report for the GEM team by the end of January 2023.  This will inform the 2023 GEM report, which is due to be launched in July 2023. 

For more information on the history of the GEM report, watch this video celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the GEM Report. 



Photo credit: Cambridge Education

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