Member area

Dialogue with unions and more regulation needed for digital education

14 December 2023

The OECD today released its Digital Education Outlook 2023.

The Outlook makes much of the potential opportunities offered by digital technologies (about which there is currently very little evidence), it also identifies some key risks:

  • Increased inequalities and digital divides. Reliable connectivity, high-quality Internet connection and access to digital tools are essential for students to benefit from digital tools in education. However, OECD data shows that this remains a challenge for most OECD countries, as do inequalities in the digital competences of teachers within countries. Only 56% of lower secondary teachers had received any pre-service training in the use of ICT for teaching in TALIS 2018.
  • New or amplified biases. Despite algorithmic decision-making have been shown to have the potential to be biased in other sectors (such as the finance and justice sectors), the OECD finds that there is currently no regulation or guidelines regarding the use of algorithms or automated decisions in education.
  • Privacy and data protection. The use of digital tools in education has increased the amount of data collected from teachers and students. Private technology and service providers are also collecting and managing increasing amounts of information on behalf of schools. This all raises concerns about inappropriate use of personal information or privacy breaches.
  • The performance of digital tools is not perfect, and they may make mistakes in the advice or recommendations they provide to students, teachers and parents. Research shows that a significant number of early warning systems – which are used to predict students at risk of dropping out – rely on predictors no better than a random guess. The consequences of mistakes can be severe for the learner. The OECD highlights the importance of understanding the limitations of digital tools.

The Outlook notes that digital technologies in education are “neither a panacea nor a poison” but are rather a tool that can help advance educational objectives. Ensuring technology serves this purpose requires regulation (to mitigate the potential risks) and measures to equip teachers with the necessary competences. The Outlook also highlights the importance of multi-stakeholder collaboration in the co-creation of digital learning tools.

More attention could have been given to the need to work with education trade unions in shaping the implementation and governance of digital tools. TUAC encourages the OECD to give greater recognition to social dialogue and collective bargaining in future work on digitalisation in education.

“For digitalisation in education to benefit all learners and improve equity, education workers and unions must have a say in its development and implementation through social dialogue”

— said Veronica Nilsson, General Secretary of TUAC

“Supporting and equipping teachers is vital to reap the benefits of digital tools in education. The centrality of teachers must be recognised, respected & promoted throughout the digital transition”

— Larry Flanagan, Chair of TUAC’s Education and Skills Working Group