Policymakers have been urged to take a greater role to ensure educational technology (edtech) in Australian schools is high quality and properly governed to achieve the best outcomes for students and help close the education gap.

A new report by Leslie Loble AM, released today, calls for government and education stakeholders to lead with a well-designed approach to edtech, warning that much of the technology being used in schools today lacks a strong evidence base and effective oversight.

The report, ShapingAI and edtech to tackle Australia’s learning divide, makes several recommendations to help Australia become a leader in edtech and harness the potential impact of digital technology to improve learning outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged students.

Professor Loble, Industry Professor and Paul Ramsay Foundation fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, and a former chair of the Australian Education Ministerial Council’s Schooling Policy Group and Deputy Secretary in the NSW Department of Education, said Australia had fallen behind other countries in work to ensure the quality of edtech offerings.

“We need a well-designed approach to drive our use of educational technology so it improves learning and wellbeing for Australian students,” she said.

“While edtech is not a ‘magic bullet’ nor a replacement for established and effective teaching and learning strategies, with proper regulation it can be a powerful and targeted tool that educators can use to help close the education gap.

“The pandemic has hastened greater use of digital tools in schools, but parents and teachers currently lack information and evidence about what is being offered to children, with little assurance of the quality behind the technology or whether it is safe and ethical.

“Australia has an opportunity to be a shaper of edtech, rather than a taker. We can’t afford not to pay attention to AI and edtech in learning – the risks of inaction are too great and we risk generating an even wider learning divide without policy intervention.”

The report was produced during a Paul Ramsay Foundation Fellowship undertaken while Leslie Loble was in residence as Industry Professor at UTS Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion.

Noting PRF’s mission to break cycles of disadvantage in Australia, Foundation CEO Professor Kristy Muir said there was clear evidence showing that only properly designed, used and regulated edtech had a demonstrably positive impact on learning outcomes for disadvantaged students.

“This report makes a clear case for policymakers to develop better governance, clear rules and standards for edtech products, ensuring quality control and driving greater impact in reducing disadvantage among Australian students,” she said.

“Smarter use of digital tools and ensuring equal access to quality edtech for students and teachers is a key part of closing the education gap. We need to ensure a strong framework is in place so children get the best from technology in classrooms, setting them up for a lifetime of learning and stronger futures.”

The report makes 10 recommendations for government and education stakeholders (summarised below):

  • Establish the Australian Forum on Quality Digital Education to help shape the strategic agenda for using technology to target educational disadvantage and boost student outcomes and wellbeing
  • Work with schools to test, develop and showcase best practice integration of teaching and learning technology tools for disadvantaged and special needs students
  • Provide extra resources to disadvantaged schools to access high quality edtech
  • Commission the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) to provide expertise and advice on what works best when using edtech to support teachers and improve student outcomes
  • Include evidence standards for education interventions, including edtech, in the next quadrennial national school funding agreement
  • Accelerate high quality, independent research and evaluation of teaching and learning tools
  • Catalyse a world-leading Australian social benefit edtech sector by investing in promising systems that meet high standards for evidence, efficacy, ethics and equity
  • Create an accessible repository of trustworthy information on the quality of available edtech tools so that schools, education systems and parents can make more informed choices
  • Develop education-specific standards covering product design, data use, and lifecycle governance and accountability
  • Build public-private partnerships to safely share data for better traction on solving education challenges

“Leadership from government, the education sector, philanthropy and industry can bend the curve in Australia and set a new global standard for edtech excellence and impact,” Ms Loble said.

“These recommendations will require collaboration across all sectors to make sure our edtech meets the aims and expectations of national education priorities, tackles the learning and digital divides, and lifts education outcomes for all students, especially those with complex needs.”

The report is now available at uts.edu.au/LeslieLoble.