Civic and education leaders from around the world discussed the future of education in technology in a Harvard Graduate School of Education webinar Friday.
The event, the most recent installment in HGSE’s webinar series Education Now, was moderated by Thomas J. Kane, a professor of education and economics at HGSE, and featured Anant Agarwal, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and founder of Harvard and MIT’s online education platform edX; Usha Goswami, a professor of cognitive developmental neuroscience and director of the Center for Neuroscience in Education at the University of Cambridge; and Angeline Murimirwa, the executive director for Africa of the Campaign for Female Education.
Kane and the three panelists are members of the Council of Luminaries, a group of top education researchers formed last year by the Yidan Prize Foundation, which co-sponsored Friday’s event.
Agarwal said the most crucial step countries must take now to better education is to invest in technological infrastructure.
“Many of the worldwide agencies and governments should be investing in infrastructure, particularly the internet,” Agarwal said. “The reason is that content is becoming widely available.”
“Those that have access to the internet can get broad access to content and can rapidly improve their lives and careers,” he added.
Thinking ahead to the effects of Covid-19 on education globally, Agarwal said a “new normal” for learning will emerge as a result.
“Both technology-enabled learning and in-person learning will coexist in classrooms all over the world,” Agarwal said.
With the acknowledgement that education’s future will change, Murimirwa spoke to inaccessibility concerns, noting that technology currently only serves those in education who are able to purchase it. Similarly, Agarwal noted that a lack of proper training hinders the use of technology in education.
“If you just provide technology, it’s a pile of junk, unless you train the teachers and provide the content,” he said.
Goswami explained, however, that technology is not a one-size-fits-all solution to enhancing education globally, especially for younger children. Instead, she said countries should rethink their priorities and determine what students and educators need to thrive.
“I really don’t think technology is the answer for younger children,” Goswami said. “The answer is empowering the teachers and giving them a better way of interacting with children.”
Goswami noted that Covid-19 revealed inequities not only in the context of Murimirwa’s work in Africa, but everywhere in the world.
“It isn’t only in Africa where some children have been much more disadvantaged by Covid,” she said. “It’s also in first world countries.”
Murimirwa said Covid-19 presents an opportunity to rebuild a better education system for the future, reflecting on what educators and researchers have learned over the past year.
“Covid has been brutal, but now we have a time to build, and an opportunity to build forward,” Murimirwa said.
— Staff writer Omar Abdel Haq can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.