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Digital Learning

Digital Learning

Digital learning has the potential to offer interactive and personalized learning for children. However, depending on their design, delivery, and use, education technologies (EdTech) can also exacerbate learning inequalities. More than half of the world’s children and young people are on the wrong side of the digital divide, limiting their access to the same learning opportunities as their connected peers. As education systems increasingly invest in innovative and resilient delivery methods in the wake of the COVID-19 school closures, the need for solutions to deliver digital learning to the most marginalized has never been more urgent.

 To help fill this gap UNICEF’s Office of Research embeds implementation research into digital learning programmes to inform and improve the way governments, UNICEF and partners:

Currently active in more than 20 countries around the world research follows three key stages based on the implementation of the digital learning programme:

Publications

Accessible Digital Textbooks: Universal Design for Learning in Paraguay
Publication

Accessible Digital Textbooks: Universal Design for Learning in Paraguay

The Accessible Digital Textbooks for All (ADT) initiative, implements accessible digital tools and content to make learning accessible to all students - with and without disabilities - in the same classroom.
Digital Learning for Every Child: Closing the Gaps for an Inclusive and Prosperous Future
Publication

Digital Learning for Every Child: Closing the Gaps for an Inclusive and Prosperous Future

Pre-Covid-19, half of the world’s children were already unable to read a simple text by the age of 10. School closures have deepened pre-existing learning disparities, within and among countries, due to inequities in access to technology. This brief summarises research findings and provides actionable recommendations for how to equitably scale up digital learning and provide children and young people with the skills to improve their prospects and safeguard their well-being. It pinpoints solutions for education systems’ use of digital and blended learning anchored in a sound pedagogical approach and urges the G20 and other countries to overcome the barriers that limit the potential benefits of digital learning.
Unlocking Learning: The implementation and effectiveness of digital learning for Syrian refugees in Lebanon
Publication

Unlocking Learning: The implementation and effectiveness of digital learning for Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Digital learning has the potential to offer interactive and personalized learning for children, in and out of school, including the most marginalized. However, depending on programme design, delivery, and use, digital learning can also exacerbate learning inequalities. This report presents tangible findings on the implementation and use of digital learning to improve outcomes for marginalized children in Lebanon. This report focuses on the UNICEF-Akelius Foundation Partnership and its implementation of a digital course used on tablets and mobile phones for language learning of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The report provides findings across three areas: First, the report investigates the digital course’s use in a blended learning environment where it was used on tablets by students as part of traditional face-to-face classroom instruction with teachers. Second, the analysis examines the transition to remote learning where the course was used on devices owned by the household, supported by teachers remotely. Third, the report estimates the effectiveness of the use of the digital course during this period of remote learning from August–November 2020 showing positive results for language and art competencies.
Reopening With Resilience: Lessons from Remote Learning During COVID-19 – East Asia and the Pacific
Publication

Reopening With Resilience: Lessons from Remote Learning During COVID-19 – East Asia and the Pacific

COVID-19 school closures in East Asia and the Pacific threaten to widen existing learning inequities and increase the number of children out of school. During the pandemic, governments rapidly deployed remote learning strategies, ranging from paper-based take-home materials to digital platforms. However, lack of electricity – critical to connectivity – remains a key obstacle for the region, particularly in rural areas. Therefore, while digital learning platforms were offered by most Southeast Asian countries, take-up was low. A combination of modalities – including mobile phone-based learning strategies – and collaboration with a range of non-governmental education stakeholders have the potential to enhance the reach of remote learning and to make it more engaging for students. Lessons from the regional implementation of these strategies emphasize the importance of research to understand the needs of students, educators and parents and the impact of remote learning, especially in low-resource contexts.
Reopening with Resilience: Lessons from remote learning during COVID-19
Publication

Reopening with Resilience: Lessons from remote learning during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic led to school closures around the world, affecting almost 1.6 billion students. The effects of even short disruptions in a child’s schooling on their learning and well-being have been shown to be acute and long lasting. The capacities of education systems to respond to the crisis by delivering remote learning and support to children and families have been diverse yet uneven. This report reviews the emerging evidence on remote learning throughout the global school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic to help guide decision-makers to build more effective, sustainable, and resilient education systems for current and future crises.
Learning at a Distance: Children’s remote learning experiences in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic
Publication

Learning at a Distance: Children’s remote learning experiences in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Italy was the first country in Europe to implement a nationwide lockdown. Children and their families lived in nearly complete isolation for almost two months. Students missed 65 days of school compared to an average of 27 missed days among high-income countries worldwide. This prolonged break is of concern, as even short breaks in schooling can cause significant loss of learning for children and lead to educational inequalities over time. At least 3 million Italian students may not have been reached by remote learning due to a lack of internet connectivity or devices at home. This report explores children’s and parents’ experiences of remote learning during the lockdown in Italy, drawing on data collected from 11 European countries (and coordinated by the European Commission’s Joint Research Center). It explores how children's access and use of digital technologies changed during the pandemic; highlights how existing inequalities might undermine remote learning opportunities, even among those with internet access; and provides insights on how to support children’s remote learning in the future. *** L'Italia e’ stata il primo paese in Europa ad aver applicato la misura del lockdown su tutto il territorio. I bambini e le loro famiglie hanno vissuto in quasi completo isolamento per circa due mesi. Gli studenti hanno perduto 65 giorni di scuola rispetto ad una media di 27 negli altri paesi ad alto reddito del mondo. Questa interruzione prolungata rappresenta motivo di preoccupazione, in quanto persino interruzioni piu’ brevi nella didattica possono causare significative perdite nel livello di istruzione dei ragazzi e portare col tempo a diseguaglianze educative. Almeno 3 milioni di studenti in Italia non sono stati coinvolti nella didattica a distanza a causa d una mancanza di connessione ad internet o di dispositivi adeguati a casa. Questo rapporto analizza l’esperienza della didattica a distanza di ragazzi e genitori in Italia durante il lockdown, sulla base dei dati raccolti in 11 paesi europei (e coordinati dal Centro comune di ricerca della Commissione Europea). Studia il cambiamento nell’accesso e nell’uso delle tecnologie digitali dei bambini e ragazzi durante la pandemia; mette in evidenza come le diseguaglianze esistenti possano diminuire le opportunità offerte dalla didattica a distanza, anche tra coloro che hanno accesso ad internet; e fornisce approfondimenti su come sostenere la didattica a distanza di bambini e ragazzi in futuro.
Unlocking Learning: The co-creation and effectiveness of a digital language learning course for refugees and migrants in Greece
Publication

Unlocking Learning: The co-creation and effectiveness of a digital language learning course for refugees and migrants in Greece

Promising Practices for Equitable Remote Learning. Emerging lessons from COVID-19 education responses in 127 countries
Publication

Promising Practices for Equitable Remote Learning. Emerging lessons from COVID-19 education responses in 127 countries

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on societies, globally. To help contain the spread of the disease, schools around the world have closed, affecting 1.6 billion learners – approximately 91 per cent of the world’s enrolled students. Governments and education stakeholders have responded swiftly to continue children’s learning, using various delivery channels including digital tools, TV/radio-based teaching and take-home packages for parent or carer-guided education. However, the massive scale of school closures has laid bare the uneven distribution of the technology needed to facilitate remote learning. It has also highlighted the lack of preparedness and low resilience of systems to support teachers, facilitators and parents/caregivers in the successful and safe use of technology for learning. Using data on access to technology from household surveys (MICS and DHS) and information on national education responses to school closures gathered from UNICEF education staff in over 120 countries, this brief explores potential promising practices for equitable remote learning.

News & Commentary

Girls from Santo Antônio II school in the Autonomous Region of Príncipe experimenting with the use of laptops.
Article

Listening to Children and Young People to Transform Education Through Digital Learning in São Tomé and Príncipe

Digital learning has the potential to transform education systems, by providing students with interactive and fun learning experiences. However, reaching the promise of digital learning requires much more than inserting technology into a school. Beyond improving access to electricity and affordable connectivity, effective digital learning requires a systems approach with teachers and students at the center. In São Tomé and Príncipe, UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) has begun  the implementation of the Digital Learning Strategy for the next 5 years in primary and secondary education. This systems approach includes teacher training, developing methods for improving pedagogy with technology, plans for how to manage devices in the classroom, and the development of free and high-quality educational content. The strategy is data-driven, with research embedded to allow the country to continually adapt and improve the digital learning system based on evidence. In preparation for the launch of digital learning, qualitative data was collected from students, teachers, and caregivers in four schools on Príncipe island to understand how ready the learning ecosystem is for digital learning in the classroom. This rapid exercise allowed the MEHE and UNICEF to learn directly from users and inform upcoming teacher training and implementation of digital learning tools, including the Learning Passport and the Akelius digital learning course in schools. Below are some key findings:Communication between the school and the community on the use of technology for learning is key and engagement with young people is a crucial part of this process.  Mobile phones were the most commonly reported technology used by households, and caregivers report using mobile phones primarily for social networking and messaging apps. Caregivers control the time of use by children and had concerns about their use for learning especially with regards to privacy, security, and content that children can access. Thus the introduction of technology at school must be well communicated to families so that they understand how it can contribute to learning, and that digital protection and security will be taken seriously. Caregivers frequently rely on their older children to support them to understand and use digital devices, as such communication campaigns on the use of digital learning should involve young people as key catalysts for change.“I feel comfortable, but in some respects I sometimes find barriers that I have to overcome, but with the help of my children I overcome them.” - Caregiver, Santo Antônio II School2. Teachers and students see the great promise of digital learning but are concerned over issues of connectivity. Teachers reported their great interest in including digital learning as a tool that can excite and motivate students in the classroom. Students also have positive reactions, they expressed comfort in using technologies, and excitement in using digital solutions in the classroom. Connectivity, however, is a big challenge reported by both students and teachers and even when the connection exists it is often not stable. As connectivity remains a major barrier, it is critical that digital learning solutions can be used without the internet. This is why the MEHE is prioritizing the use of the Learning Passport and the Akelius digital course which can be used both online and offline.3. Teacher training is crucial, especially to strengthen skills in managing technology in the classroom and integrating digital content into lesson plans. Teachers are curious and willing to learn new methods for teaching, some had already begun preparing lesson plans with educational music and videos found online. Teachers mentioned that the use of digital content creates greater interest among students and helps them to retain information. However, they also brought up the challenge of organizing lessons with digital learning, especially in classes with younger students which can be difficult to manage. The views of teachers show the great importance of strong practical teacher training that focuses on how to integrate technology into lessons. "Students in the ninth and eight grades are more grown up, they already have a better mind prepared for this, but those in the first to the sixth grades will be a job." - Teacher at Santo Antônio II School Implementation phases aligned with research  More to come. In São Tomé and Príncipe, research with teachers and students will continue as teacher training is scaled and the implementation of digital learning in classrooms begins. This process will provide timely insights to inform the implementation of digital learning as it scales. This effort is part of UNICEF Innocenti’s work to build implementation research into digital learning programmes. Rafael Pontuschka is an Education Researcher at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. 

Project team

Thomas Dreesen

UNICEF Innocenti

Joaquin Cárceles

UNICEF Innocenti

Marta Carnelli

UNICEF Innocenti

Sophia Kan

UNICEF Innocenti

Svetlana Poleschuk

UNICEF Innocenti

Rafael Pontuschka

UNICEF Innocenti

Sophia Torres

UNICEF Innocenti

Marco Valenza

UNICEF Innocenti

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Education