Unicef calls on policymakers to prioritize holistic approach to education
MANILA, Philippines — The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) called on policymakers to strengthen and prioritize its holistic approach to education after baring that one in three digital learning platforms created during the COVID-19 pandemic has either already completely shut down, was outdated, or no longer fully functional.
This, said Unicef, further limited the learning approaches to help school children recover their education that was lost during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused stringent lockdown measures across many countries.
Its report, Pulse Check on Digital Learning — which examined the current state of digital learning by focusing on five vitals: policies and financing, platforms and content, teachers and school, digital literacy and holistic learning opportunities — showed “promising trends” across many countries but also the stagnation that is putting it at risk of regression.
Findings in the said study included:
- Although half the world’s population is still offline, over 70 percent of platforms do not offer offline functionality. Just 49 percent of platforms in high-income countries and 18 percent of platforms in low-income countries can be run offline.
- The majority of platforms, 67 percent, do not provide engaging content despite interactivity being a central component of student-focused learning, with most offering only static content such as videos and PDFs of textbooks.
- Only 22 percent of digital learning platforms contain features to make them accessible to children with disabilities. Even among the few, the provisions are basic, such as closed captions for videos.
- Critically, 85 percent of platforms were mobile-friendly, the most commonly available modality for learning in low- and middle-income countries.
- Most digital learning platforms (84 percent) offered features using all of a country’s national languages.
This prompted Unicef to call on policymakers, the private sector, research agencies, international and local organizations, and civil society to prioritize a holistic approach to education.
According to Unicef, this should include the incorporation of digital learning in national policies and plans; increasing resources dedicated to digital learning; addressing the digital and usage divides; training and empowering teachers and school leaders, as well as learners and caregivers; and meeting schoolchildren where they are in their learning through entertaining and educational content and a mix of technologies.
“Today, governments are at a pivotal point of either failing to educate an entire generation, or making trend-altering investments in cost-effective initiatives, including digital learning, to transform their education systems,” said Unicef Director of Education Robert Jenkins.
In the Philippines, the Department of Education has a renewed focus on digital learning through its Learning Recovery and Continuity Plan, with Unicef Philippines adding content to these platforms through the production of digital stories, games, apps, ebooks, and videos that increase access of mainstream students and that of children with special needs.
Unicef said that when planned and facilitated effectively, quality, inclusive, and equitable digital learning opportunities can complement other learning approaches and help schoolchildren catch up on what they missed during the pandemic and the pre-existing learning crisis, according to the report.
“Nearly 90 percent of National Statements of Commitment made at the Transforming Education Summit highlighted digital learning and the need to strengthen it,” said UN Special Adviser for the Summit, Leonardo Garnier.
“To truly harness the potential of technology, we need to avoid simply replicating in the digital form the mistakes made in traditional in-person instruction. When applied with sound pedagogical approaches, technology can help putting learners at the center, enabling the creation of student communities bonded by common questions and interests,” he added.
READ: Unicef: Many children drop out as in-person classes reopen
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