How investing in tech for teachers can bring equity to education

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Katherine Maloney, Assistant Vice President; Executive Director, Infosys Foundation & Tan Moorthy, Executive Vice President, Head Delivery Operations – US, Canada & LATAM, Infosys

  • Students will be left behind if we do not invest in the digital skills of teachers;
  • Countries, corporations and global citizens need to work collaboratively on behalf of our teachers to ensure they have the digital skills and technology to educate the creators of tomorrow;
  • On World Teachers’ Day, here are four ways to upskill the digital educator.

The COVID-19 pandemic flipped the world’s classrooms on their heads. Teachers and students were catapulted into a virtual or hybrid environment overnight; survival of the fittest meant those who had access to Chromebooks, Flipgrid, Zoom or mobile apps and basic wifi.

Professionals with school-going children have talked of their profound respect for teachers working with all ages of pupils. Teachers showed the wide range of digital skills to be found in every school system, but, across the world, we learned that the digital have and have-nots were separated by a chasm of inequality. The COVID-19 pandemic created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents.

By March 2020, 1.4 billion students had already had their education disrupted
By March 2020, 1.4 billion students had already had their education disrupted Image: UNESCO/Statista

In a world where technological advancements come at lightning speed, there is a risk that students will be left behind if we do not invest in the digital skills of those who help them become creators of tomorrow: their educators.

On this World Teachers’ Day, let’s spotlight the critical role of teachers in preparing the next generation for a technology-driven 21st century and let’s commit to investing in their digital future.

Advancing SDG 4

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer a global framework to achieve a more sustainable and equitable world for all. SDG 4 is designed to promote inclusive and equitable quality education for all. More specifically, the goal’s aims push us to measure the percentage of youth or adults who have achieved at least a minimum level of proficiency in digital literacy skills.

Teachers are central to the achievement of this SDG. As we head into the Decade of Action before the 2030 deadline for the SDGs, it is imperative that we provide the training and tools they need to build confidence and competence with computer science technology.

Teachers did their part; let’s do ours

In March 2021, the International Commission on the Futures of Education’s Progress Update reinforced “the importance of the teaching profession and increased attention to teacher education and professional development”.

Some organizations have already responded:

  • Verizon Foundation’s Innovative Learning HQ is a model of technology, skills and inclusion. This online education portal offers lesson plans, professional development credentials, and next-gen learning for all to help ensure no student is left behind;
  • Infosys Foundation USA, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm of Infosys Ltd, is expanding access to computer science and maker education for educators through its digital learning platform, the Pathfinders Online Institute. This diverse, equitable and inclusive mix of professional development content, video instruction, webinar recordings, mini-lessons and other instructional resources is available to any user who creates a free account.
  • Intel’s Skills for Innovation (Intel SFI) framework helps teachers integrate technology to embrace new ways of teaching from any location and to help their students gain new innovative thinking and STEM skills.

Despite the stress of the pandemic, there is evidence to suggest a professional openness from teachers to increasing their digital dexterity, as captured in the survey Turning to Technology: A Survey of Teachers’ Responses to the COVID19 Pandemic. The results suggest that “teachers, particularly those with the longest experience in the classroom, learned new digital skills, adapted their pedagogies and invested hugely in their professional development by engaging in significantly above-trend amounts of training during the year 2020-21, spanning the pandemic.”

4 ways to help upskill the digital educator

1. Raise the status of teachers in society: The theme for 2021 World Teachers’ Day is apt: “Teachers: leading in crisis, re-imagining the future”. We must recognize the leadership role that teachers play, especially in times of upheaval or emergency. Respect for the teaching profession must become central to how society treats them every day, not just on 5 October each year.

2. Make CSR strategies count: Explicitly align CSR strategies focused on STEM, technology and digital equity with the UN SDG framework, to allow greater global focus, action, innovation and impact toward 2030 objectives. Design your strategies then map your success against the SDG thematic indicators and goals.

3. Structure partnerships that take advantage of government funding and include private sector investment and non-profits delivering programmes to ensure sustainable responses to the digital demands of the future. Expand programmes that bring teachers into corporate settings and work to expand their fluency with digital transformations, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, machine learning, robotics-based manufacturing and other frontiers that industries are developing. Through strategic partnerships and programmes, we must use our respective resources to train, equip and empower our educators with digital skills that modernize their lessons and leave no student behind.

4. Consider engagement with multi-lateral initiatives that advance SDG 4: Consider UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank’s Mission: Recovering Education 2021, focused on bringing all children back to school, recovering learning losses and preparing and supporting teachers. Elsewhere, there’s a new tool, the COVID-19 Global Education Recovery Tracker developed by Johns Hopkins University’s eSchool+ Initiative, UNICEF and the World Bank, to monitor school reopening and recovery planning efforts in more than 200 countries and territories; or the Business Investment for Educational Impact goals of the UNESCO Global Education Coalition that are trying to scale what is working in digital learning approaches.

Re-imagine tech equity in education

Education is a collective endeavour. We need countries, corporations and global citizens to work collaboratively on behalf of our teachers. Advances in technology and the lessons from COVID-19 can help us create a path towards greater equity in education. Together with digital teachers of the future, we can power a world where nobody is left behind.

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