Survey Report | Teaching with Tech: The Role of Education Unions in Shaping the Future

published 25 November 2020 updated 30 November 2020

Today Education International released the report of its Future of Work in Education Global Survey on the use of technology in education. Produced by Dr Christina Colclough, the report was launched during a special session of the Education International Executive Board.

EdTech – education technology – is a booming industry that has grown at an accelerated pace in 2020, spurred on by the school closures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. While education technologies bring the promise of personalised learning systems that hold the potential to adapt education to the 21st century, they also pose several challenges, including the risk of deepening divides relating to access to education.

Conducted amid global school closures, in June, July and August 2020, the Future of Work in Education Survey aims to shed light on the expansion of technology in education, the implications in terms of access to education, educators’ involvement in assessing these tools and their impact on learners, and the way EdTech changes the teaching profession. The report highlights several striking findings that will inform the work of Education International and its member organisations in the future.

A lack of consultation with education unions

During the Covid-19 school closures, new digital technologies were introduced in the vast majority of countries. While 75% of respondents reported that digital technologies had been introduced in their countries due to the Covid-19 school closures, 45% of unions have not been consulted on the adoption of these new tools. A further 29% of unions report having been consulted on only a few aspects of the introduction of digital technologies in education in their countries.

These findings speak of a unilateral top-down decision-making structure that overtly disregards the professionalism and experience of teachers and education support personnel. Educators have no pre-implementation opportunity to raise questions or flag concerns and are therefore withheld from having influence over the nature of these technologies. This must be changed.

Educators’ access to the Internet: Digital divides

The survey revealed critical digital divides in terms of educators’ access to the internet before and during Covid-19. The greatest divides within countries were noted when comparing internet access in rural versus urban areas and richer versus poorer neighbourhoods. Unsurprisingly, urban and richer areas have better access to the Internet.

In addition, the Global South/Global North digital divide was confirmed by the survey results, with access to the Internet being much more of a challenge for educators in Africa and Latin America, than for those in Europe and North America and the Caribbean.

Teachers’ digital competencies, training and support

Across the board, educators agreed that their training needs on digital technologies were not sufficiently met. Respondents ranked using technology for teaching and learning as the most urgent training need for educators.

The report highlights the discrepancy between the rapid integration of digital technologies into teaching and the actual skills of the workers.

Digital technologies and educators’ wellbeing

When asked about the impact of digital technologies on the wellbeing of educators, respondents indicated that their greatest concern was the expected increased work intensification, followed by a more or less equal concern for negative health impacts caused by technostress and screen time.

Shockingly, 32% of the responses reported that teachers’ and education support personnel’s wellbeing is not addressed in any policy instrument, and only in 27% of collective agreements.

Governance of digital technologies

Looking into the degree of involvement of education unions in shaping digital technologies, the survey found that educators are not included in the governance of these tools.

Fifty-seven per cent of respondents reported that they were not consulted about the technologies teachers and education support personnel want to adopt. Union consultation is highest in Asia-Pacific followed by Europe. Latin-America is the only region where unions are not consulted at all.

When asking respondents whether the unions were involved in assessing the digital technologies already being used, 74% answered no and that there are no structures or processes in place to assess the technologies. Only 17% of unions are involved in assessing digital technologies.

Unions mobilise to ensure the future of work in education is human first

Welcoming the report, David Edwards, Education International General Secretary, stated: “As education unions we need to grow our expertise so we can better predict the impact of technological innovations on teachers and be prepared to take action as necessary. This has never been clearer than it is now, with the impact of Covid-19 on education. Education unions need to take the lead ensuring the tech chosen and used has clear benefits for students and teachers. Education International is firmly committed to working with member organisations to achieve positive change. Our members are engaged and ready to act to ensure the future of work in education is human first.”