The COVID-19 pandemic supercharged reliance on connected technology and pushed education deeper into digital ecosystems. For much of 2020 and 2021, computers and internet connections temporarily replaced schools and dictated whether hundreds of millions of students could access educational opportunities.
Although many schools have reopened, the digital transformation of education continues to accelerate. More and more teaching and learning is moving to virtual spaces.
In this new context, connected technology must advance aspirations for inclusive education that facilitates sustainable development based on principles of social and economic justice, equity, and respect for human rights.
Around the world, there are promising examples of technology enlarging access to knowledge and information, enriching educational processes, and improving learning outcomes. But these examples are not common enough.
Increasingly, there are warning signs that the digital transformation of education carries underappreciated challenges. Teachers, students, and policy makers have witnessed the many ways that technology can heighten learning inequality; increase student isolation; narrow and privatize educational experiences; homogenize teaching and learning; undermine the professional autonomy of teachers; produce harmful environmental impacts; violate privacy and trust; and consolidate power and control outside public oversight.
Going forward, we need to chart a new course for connected learning. A course that advances, rather than subverts, our aspirations for inclusive education based on the principles of justice, equity and respect for human rights. Education is a human right and public good – and it must remain so in digital as well as in physical spaces.
This is why UNESCO, in partnership with Dubai Cares, initiated the project to develop the RewirEd Global Declaration on Connectivity for Education.
Authorship of the Declaration was steered by an advisory group composed of individuals with expertise in connectivity for learning. Advisory group members come from a variety of backgrounds and represent international organizations, private sector companies, NGOs, and civil society groups. In 2022 UNESCO and the Advisory Group will continue to ensure the Declaration is forward-looking and provides governments and other stakeholders in education ideas to leverage digital technologies in effective, inclusive and equitable ways.
Meet the Advisory Group Members
Programme Coordinator, Arab Regional Office, International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
"Why does connectivity matter for education? COVID-19 has shown that every child who was not connected to the internet was left behind in their education. Connectivity for education should be viewed as a human right and all stakeholders should strive to work together towards that goal."
Saeed Al Ismaily
Programs Manager, Dubai Cares
"Enabling universal access to meaningful connectivity will help ensure that children and youth all over the world – despite any crises - are empowered with the promise of a future filled with hope and possibility. The foundation of this future needs to be built today through our collective commitment to leveraging digital connectivity as our biggest opportunity to transform education into a game-changer for human development and progress."
Professor and Chair in Technology, Values, and Global Media Cultures, Erasmus University Rotterdam
"We continue to focus mainly on formal education as a key platform to leverage on connectivity to tackle socio-economic barriers. The reality is that informal learning coupled with supportive and secure digital infrastructures, regulations, and inclusive design can be the most enabling for the world's marginalized majority - the next billion users who may never get to have the full formal education but continue to serve as the backbone to our global digital futures."
Alexandre Fernandes Barbosa
Head of Cetic.br, Regional Center for Studies on the Development of the Information Society (cetic.br) at the Brazilian Network Center (nic.br)
“Connectivity for digital learning at school, household and community levels are essential for reducing existing inequalities in the access to quality education and for the development of digital skill and critical thinking. The lack of meaningful connectivity, proper digital devices and quality digital learning content hinder meaningful educational experiences and it is a barrier for pedagogical transformation.”
Yu Ping Chan
Senior Programme Officer, Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Technology, United Nations
"Without universal, affordable and meaningful connectivity, we will not be able to create a more equitable and inclusive digital future for all."
TECH4ALL Senior Project Manager, Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd.
"Technology is a key enabler of education equity and quality, so that no one is behind in the digital world."
Senior Adviser, UNICEF
"At Giga, we believe that access to fair, affordable, and safe connectivity is necessary for every young person to have an equitable future."
Senior Director mSchools, GSMA
"Collectively we must ensure quality education for everyone, and this requires that all individuals have access to the same level of resources, knowledge and support that can only be universalized through meaningful connectivity."
Research Director, EdTech Hub
"Effective connectivity is part of the puzzle but should never be seen as a standalone solution to the global learning crisis. Genuine transformation in education requires a systems-based approach. We need to shift the culture and practice of the sector so that decisions in connected education are based on rigorous evidence of what works."
Haldis Margrete Holst
Deputy General Secretary, Education International
"With equity as a core principle, well designed safety measures and teachers at the center, connectivity for education can enable teachers to enhance learning and support for their students."
Executive Director, Alliance for Affordable Internet, Head of Digital Inclusion, Web Foundation, Alliance for Affordable Internet - Web Foundation
"As the pandemic made clear, it is paramount that students and educators have access to affordable and meaningful connectivity, and this is ever more important for education purposes. Meaningful connectivity is a powerful enabler and provides the opportunity for students and educators to make the best of digital tools in support of education outcomes."
Distance Education Coordinator, Interagency Network for Education in Emergencies
"Our connectivity objectives should prioritize the unique needs and wants of the most marginalized while respecting their cultural, religious, and social sensitivities."
Head Digital Communications Industry, World Economic Forum
"Today, millions of students and teachers are unconnected due to limited digital skills and lack of access to affordable quality education, devices and relevant content. It is now an imperative that we leverage connectivity and technology to enable access to education, drive inclusive learning and develop innovative pedagogies and mechanisms."
Head, Regional Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning, Mastercard Foundation
"In a 21st Century setting, one cannot speak of quality education for all when a large percentage of learners, especially from the developing world, do not have access to online learning. Connectivity enables such access."
Education and Innovation Specialist, UNICEF
"It is increasingly difficult to accept the premise that high quality education can be achieved if learners do not achieve digital agency: the ability to create, engage, learn, and communicate in the digital space. Achieving digital agency when connectivity exists already is hard, and without it nearly impossible. Democratizing these opportunities is a major issue for education systems and societies all over the world."
Head of Digital Infrastructure and Capacity Building, Smart Africa
"I imagine an Africa where everyone is connected to the internet and empowered to use it meaningfully.....what a force this continent will be! The time is now to act."
Connected Education Officer, UNHCR
"Connectivity and education have emerged as important lifelines for the world's forcibly displaced communities - and together provide instrumental tools for fostering self-reliance and empowerment. As governments and global actors make greater invest in connectivity for education - it is vital that these communities are included. We must design for inclusion from the start, and ensure our efforts serve to close, not widen the existing digital divides."
Head of Emerging Technologies Initiative, NetHope
"The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted society's dependency on connectivity, as education, work, and life moved online. Moving forward, affordable and accessible connectivity will be key to enabling every learner to access the information and opportunities they need to reach their fullest potential."
Global Lead for Technology & Innovation in Education, The World Bank
"Being connected is no guarantee that an education system, school, classroom, teacher or student will be successful – but not being connected will increasingly make failure more likely."
Digital Policy Specialist, UNICEF
"The goal has always been to ensure quality and equitable learning opportunities for all. Meaningful connectivity is an important contributor to achieving this, and something every young person should have access to."
Program Director, Connect To Learn, Ericsson
“The lack of internet access during the pandemic has prevented some of the world’s most vulnerable children from accessing remote learning as a result of school closures, contributing to a growing global education crisis. It is more evident for all today that having access to connectivity and digital learning platforms is essential to ensure that learning never stops."
Global Consultation Process
In the second half of 2021, UNESCO convened a series of consultations to build support for the launch of the RewirEd Global Declaration on Connectivity for Education at the RewirEd Summit. These consultations engaged various education stakeholders in discussion about the Declaration, while also eliciting ideas from them to further refine its content.
UNESCO convened information sessions with all six UNESCO regional groups, and held consultations with civil society, researchers, teachers, youth, and private sector organizations. UNESCO also launched a global conversation where anyone could add their voice and participate by commenting and sharing ideas about the Declaration through online platform.
The consultations allowed UNESCO to further refine the content of the Declaration, gather ideas regarding the operationalization of the Declaration and identify potential networks and partners to help translate the Declaration into action in specific countries.
Learn more about outcomes from the consultations:
• Information sessions with UNESCO Permanent Delegations (October-November 2021)
• Civil society consultation, organized in partnership with NetHope (13 October 2021)
• Researchers and academia consultation, organized in partnership with ICEM (19 October 2021)
• Teachers consultation, organized in partnership with Education international (8 November 2021)
• Private sector information sessions, as a part of the EDISON ALLIANCE partners meeting (9 November 2021)
• Youth consultation, organized in partnership with the SDG4Youth network (8 November 2021)
To support and inform the operationalization of the Declaration, UNESCO will be producing periodic research papers about the digital transformation of education.
One paper will review evidence from ed-tech responses to the educational disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic to show how technology-first and technology-only modes of education carried harmful and unintentional outcomes.
A second report will be about the future of connectivity and examinations. The work will explore the tensions between calls for universal connectivity for education and calls to fully block connectivity during educational assessments. Research will look at internet shutdowns ordered for purposes of administering exams at national and local levels as well as efforts to block connectivity in controlled spaces like testing centers and through proctoring software used on local computers.
Finally, a third report will examine questions concerning the capture, storage, and use of educational data with a focus on ethical implications for privacy and security.