Institute of Education

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What Does Digital Future Hold for School Education?

As the world is becoming more and more data-driven, how has the global boom in ICT been remolding the schooling realm and what are the key challenges and opportunities in making schools better prepared to get the most of digital innovation? These were among the key strands of networking and debate at this year’s International Summer School ‘Digital Environment and Inequality of Educational Opportunities’ that took place at IOE from June 30 to July 05.    

Held for the third straight year since 2017, the Summer School provides a vibrant international forum for junior-career scholars and world-class experts in education to exchange perspectives on various conceptual and policy domains in the study of socioeconomic and educational inequalities.

In 2019, the School aimed to explore multiple facets and dimensions of the nexus between ubiquitous digitization and inequalities, e.g.:

  • Students’ digital literacy, digital behavior and social inequality
  • Teachers' digital literacy and how they conceive of ICT in the classroom
  • ICT (laptops, mobile phones, VR, etc.), digital technologies (electronic textbooks, etc.), online resources and MOOCs in education and how they influence the performance of students across social groups
  • Policies to bolster ICT in education in order to alleviate inequality, how well these policies have worked so far, and an agenda for their further development

Here is a roundup of key points by the School faculty about how the global stride of digital innovation is likely to be shaping the schooling realm in near future.

School Has Lagged Way behind the Modern Reality and Development Needs

“Many fundaments in how mainstream schooling is organized, including the classroom system with blackboards and students perusing textbooks at their desks, have remained intact since the very advent of the mass school in the 16th century. Yet, it is important to realize that if this format of labor-centric learning organization to prepare students to engage in disciplined manual work in the manufacturing industry was a good fit back into that time, then it no longer dovetails with the reality of today,” Dr. Rodrigo Barbosa e Silva of Stanford Graduate School of Education explains.

Sure, a good deal of change is required in how the curriculum and delivery methods are designed in modern schools, so that we could equip our children with the skills and competencies crucial to all-round socialization and decent living in the 21st century. For example, a classroom layout of individual student desks is just antiquated and fails to match the tasks of teaching effective teamwork. Or, say, if we want our children to develop critical thinking, then we should encourage reciprocity and collaboration in learning to make sure students are always allowed to challenge the teacher and debate with the peers.

More Research on Digital Transformation in Education Is Required

Tolerance to digital change and ICT savvy are important elements in the framework of 21st century skills for both students and teachers. Yet, whether we will be able to stay in sync with ICT by acquiring a sound knowledge of how the yields of digital innovation, such as mobile technologies, web services, AI and Big Data, etc., can work to benefit learning & development depends increasingly on more extensive and multifaceted research into the digital dimension.        

“Digital innovation has been striding wide across the globe and it only takes a blinking of the eye nowadays for new technologies to emerge and gain mass ground. For example, the global population of fixed-line subscribers reached 50 millions in as long as 74 years, and then it took the radio only roughly half as long, 38 years, to record just as many users worldwide – whereas the cell phone and the Skype were able to hit this point in just 60 and 22 months, respectively. But most importantly, the divide between those savvy in ICT and their counterparts who have not got the hang of modern devices has been getting starker day by day,” Dr. Roseli de Deus Lopes of the University of São Paulo comments.

The tremendous pace of the digital move has prompted a situation where academia often lacks the capacity to respond to the surging demand for research on digital transformations in education. For reference, the ratio of academics per 10,000 employees is currently 94 in the U.S., 83 in Great Britain, and it is 70 in Germany and only 18 in China.

Mobile Innovations for Teachers

Smartphones, tablets, laptops and other mass-market ICT are becoming more and more common in the schooling realm, however there has not yet been as much digital innovation that is designed specifically to facilitate the learning process and how the networking among varied school actors is organized.      

“A good example here is Brazil, where a special mobile app has recently been released that is built along the Uber model and provides a quick and easy way for school administrators to find a replacement teacher, or, say, this app can also be handy for parents who are seeking the right tutor for their children,” Dr. Rodrigo Barbosa e Silva explains.


The Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a digital novelty that has seen a startling upswing across the global schooling domain in recent years as it allows one to study whenever and wherever works best for them.   

“Some have argued that MOOCs could perhaps become a learning format to greatly benefit modern education since they are cheap to implement, easy to use and offer a good deal of flexibility. Yet, there have been multiple studies that point to a number of drawbacks and downsides to the MOOC approach, such as poor feedback from the instructor that leads to high rates of withdrawal, limited means for appropriately evaluating academic progress, and so on. And most importantly, in practice, MOOCs often serve to only further amplify inequality since the most users of MOOCs are typically those who have the odds of more advantaged educational background,” Dr. Roseli de Deus Lopes notes.         

MOOCs as such may not be enough to bolster equity-centric learning & development environments, so it definitely requires a more thorough and multi-dimensional analysis to gauge the best approaches and educational practices to complement the MOOC framework.

Helping School Go Digital

The school of today is at peril of failing to secure a thriving future in the 21st century unless it gets better prepared to employ the development potential afforded by ICT. Comparative insights into the global educational landscape suggest that there are two basic approaches for policy to help the schooling realm go digital:

“My studies have involved looking at how Brazil and the U.S. have gone about facilitating the digital transition in education, each of these national approaches representing a distinct case of the two largely opposed policy models. In Brazil, it is all basically about top-down decision-making when measures are being administered to design and mass-implement specific online tools and services to aid schools. By contrast, the U.S. approach proposes that schools, teachers and other immediate actors in education themselves know best which way to steer in transitioning to effective ICT-assisted learning, so the policy focus here has been mostly on supporting bottom-up initiatives in education digitization,” Dr. Rodrigo Barbosa e Silva says.