The UN agency said that even being close to a smartphone has been linked with students being distracted in the classroom, which in turn causes poorer student performances.
A new UNESCO report warns against the overuse of technology like smartphones and computers in education, saying that the benefits they bring disappear when they’re used in excess or without the guidance of a teacher.
“The digital revolution holds immeasurable potential but, just as warnings have been voiced for how it should be regulated in society, similar attention must be paid to the way it is used in education,” Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO, said in a press release shared with Euronews.
“Its use must be for enhanced learning experiences and for the well-being of students and teachers, not to their detriment.”
UNESCO’s 2023 GEM report warns that while technologies in the classroom can be beneficial to students’ learning, they can also have a detrimental impact if used inappropriately or excessively - as in the case of smartphones.
“Large-scale international assessment data, such as that provided by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), suggest a negative link between excessive ICT use and student performance,” the report says.
While mere proximity to a mobile device was found to distract students and to have a negative impact on learning in 14 countries, the agency writes, less than 1 in 4 nations across the world have banned smartphone use in schools.
Those that have banned them include France, which introduced the measure in 2018, Italy, where teachers collect students’ smartphones at the beginning of the day, Finland, and the Netherlands, which is going to introduce the ban in 2024.
As a result of their findings, UNESCO recommends a global ban on smartphones in the classroom.
“We need to learn about our past mistakes when using technology in education so that we do not repeat them in the future,” said Manos Antoninis, Director of the Report.
“We need to teach children to live both with and without technology; to take what they need from the abundance of information, but to ignore what is not necessary; to let technology support, but never supplant human interactions in teaching and learning.”
A focus on human interaction
UNESCO is wary of the beneficial impact of technology in the classroom, with evidence in its favour coming mostly from the richest countries in the world - like the UK - or from “those trying to sell it”, the agency says.
Instead of relying on technology to educate children, education should continue to be centred on human interaction, the agency says.
In the past 20 years, paper has been replaced with screens in many classrooms, and students have ditched the heavy tomes of the encyclopedia for Wikipedia - which had 244 million page views per day in 2021, according to UNESCO. The COVID pandemic accelerated the technological revolution in the classroom, forcing millions of students worldwide to transition to online learning.
According to UNESCO, some 50% of the world’s lower secondary schools were connected to the Internet for pedagogical purposes in 2022.
But while some changes are to be embraced, UNESCO said we should debate how much space we want technology to take over in the classroom. “Too much attention on technology in education usually comes at a high cost,” the agency writes in the report.
Resources spent on technology should be spent on classrooms, teachers, and textbooks for all children in low and lower-middle-income countries lacking access to these resources, so that they too can reach universal secondary schooling and minimum learning competencies.
On top of that, the agency warns that the benefits of technology in education are not evenly distributed, with disadvantaged kids usually being denied the opportunity to take advantage of it.