​Why digital technology in education can impair an inherent right

Digital technology in education can impair the right to education and widen inequalities - New UN report warns.

“Digital technologies should reduce inequalities in society, not widen them,” said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, during the presentation of his report on the ‘Right to Education in the Digital Age’ to the Human Rights Council.

In his report, which examines how digital technology is transforming the landscape of higher education, and considers its implications for the right to education, Singh urges all Governments across the world “to ensure that the use of digital technologies in education promotes access, quality and equity in education, and does not undermine them.”

“Technology in education provides important benefits, but it can also impair the right to education if inequitably implemented,” the human rights expert cautioned while calling on States “to take special care that marginalisation and disparities are not allowed to grow.”

“Governments must ensure that the digital divide in education, both between States and within them, is progressively reduced,” the Special Rapporteur said. He noted that in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Governments have stressed the need to bridge the digital divide, and stressed that “States must make the elimination of digital divides a key priority as we implement this Agenda.”

According to the independent expert, public policies have not kept pace with the rapid developments in digital technologies. “Governments must ensure that their legislation and policies are updated to protect the right to education,” he added.

Noting the rapid developments in massive open online courses and online learning, Singh expressed concern that digital technologies should supplement, and not substitute face to face teaching and human interaction.

“States must take measures to ensure that the right to education in the digital age is not violated by private providers,” the Special Rapporteur said urging Governments to guard against abusive practices in online learning and delivery diplomas.

“The intellectual community and civil society should raise public debates to ensure education remains a public good and not for private profit,” he added.

The expert noted the need to amend copyright laws “to allow for greater non-profit use in education, and States should support the development of free, online open education resources for all.”

“I also call upon the United Nations treaty bodies, and the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, to look into the use of digital technology in education,” Singh added, “to ensure that the norms and principles of the right to education are protected, and that technology strengthens this right, rather than undermining it.”

The Special Rapporteur concluded by noting that digital technologies are negatively affecting students by impairing their ability to contemplate and think critically. “Universities are the moral seat of learning, and must foster common human values,” he underscored.

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