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ReThinking Education - Why we need rigorous, in-depth research on EdTechs in schools

* EdTech, a portmanteau coined from the combined words of education and technology, is a commercially-driven business practice which has been fast growing in the education sector.

Scholars like Jose Van Dijck et al. (2018), Ben Williamson (2017) and Neil Selwyn (2015) have pointed out the lack of investigation and research on the increasing use of digital technologies in educational settings. In the past few years, we have witnessed blitzscaling of EdTechs, a business technique that allows massive scaling of businesses "in order to seize the ground before competitiors do" (O'Reilly, 2019). And thanks to the global pandemic, EdTech businesses have thrived in such an environment and continued to expand its geographical reach across the world. Nevertheless, the implications of the pervasive use of highly data-driven technologies bring our attention to think about the following critical issues: Privacy, Choice to opt-out of data collection, Private or Public values?

What is driving EdTech growth in educational sector?

The so-called venture philanthropy or philanthrocapitalists like Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg initiative have been taking new digital reofrm approaches to education and aggresively scaled up to other geographical, socila and demographic sites. Education is a "fertile ground" (Hillman, 2021) for making profits and a field that the demand never dies down. Businesses have long been eyeing the education sector. The EdTech market is currently about the size of the autonomous vehicle market and it is estimated to be valued at $377.85 billion US dollars by 2028. So to sum up in two words, the driving sources for EdTech growth are money and immense business opportunities.

EdTech businesses say they can solve all problems. But can they?

EdTech businesses have long created and promoted techno-solutionism narratives. Their products can solve all existing problems in education and they can only provide better education through the use of cutting-edge technologies. Building these narratives and techno-centric discourses helped EdTechs thrive and they re-imagine the future of education based on their technological contributions and lay out techno-utopian ideals. But essentially, the purpose of these EdTech companies to make money. Their motives and interests are not driven by student-centered approach, but what makes their businesses thrive: making profits. EdTech businesses often put its personalized learning feature to the front of their marketing strategies. However, this personalization is essentiallly based on AI-based algorithmic categorization that is certianly not without bias. In the case of ClassDoJo, where student's dataveillance and surveillance pervade, its AI-based algorithmic categorization of students judges and labels students through ranking. Children are often reduced to punitive measures, mere data points. From the pedagogical perspective, understanding child's misbehaviour should be approached with more than just disciplining and punishment systems. It is run through a points system (resembling China's social credit system) which does not only disrupt building a strong relationship between adults (teachers/parents) and students, but also promoting and intensifying coercive and manipulative nature of the system. New South Korean education policies came out in 2021 announced its adoption of facial-recognition technology in "Green Smart Future School" model and addresses no issues of ethical use of these technologies. No rules, no policies, no protective measures for children are existent yet.

Is privacy important? Privacy is not just important. What we often forget is it is a fundamental human right recognized in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights and in many other international and regional treaties. Human dignity is foregrounded by privacy and other core values like freedom of speech and freedom of association.

Can a student, child opt out of the data collection to have the rights to privacy? Unfortunately, Veli Hillman (2021) says 'no' as a short answer. There is no set regulation around EdTech businesses, data rights and privacy. Most importantly, these are emerging areas of study. The evidence that we see so far demonstrates that the educaional standard now is heavily based on neoliberal logic, that everything exists to maximize profits as long as it does not cross the legal boundaries. EdTech businesses make money through data. More data that they have, more opportunities they have for profits. Data in educational settings is perceived as a natural resource that can just be obtained and extracted by these companies (Yu and Couldry, 2020). Current business models of most digital businesses follow the surveillance capitalism framework and students are no longer seen as human beings but data analytic points.

Where are we now in terms of policies then? What about public values of education?

There are not enough signs of policymakers addressing such issues of student privacy, surveillance, data rights, which are increasingly determined and operated by EdTechs. Particularly in the latest finding from my research, a comparative policy analysis of the EU and South Korean education, South Korean policies are basically adopting and repeating the narratives of the EdTech without any of their own evaluations or assessments. For example, its adoption of facial-recognition technology in "Green Smart Future School," a future school model that the ministry of education ambitiously announced, never addresses nor mentions ethical use of these technologies, but frames implementation of new technologies as the only right thing to do, ignoring all other options, to set their policy agenda. No rules, no protective measures exist yet in relation to EdTech industry. The field of education has become no longer child-centered or child-based, but business-centered and profit-based.

Conclusion: In societies where neoliberal logic and values are increasingly pervasive, we often think less about our own agency and resistance. Just how Paulo Freire (1979) emphasized the critical self-reflexivity of the oppressed (students), we need a space where educators, teachers, school leaders, policy makers and parents can continue using their critical self-reflexivity to discuss imminent problems of a highly mediated space in educational settings and what the digital education and digital literacy must entail.

1. Children should be educated on their digital rights.

2. The risks and vulnerability of EdTech businesses must be recognized.

3. "Rethinking Education" is always a necessary step when reform discourses pervade in times like global pandemic.

We must take the time to pause, reflect, and be able to question things when everything is happening at lightning speed. Beginning to raise awareness of these isseus and thinking hard and collectively should be a depature point for improving digital citizenship education and digital literacy.

References: Bower, J. (2014). 6 reasons to reject ClassDojo. Assessment is not a spreadsheet -- it's a conversation. Hillman, V. (2021). EdTech in Schools. Media LSE Blog.

Selwyn, N. (2015). Data entry: towards the critical study of digital data and education. Learning, Media and Technology, 40(1): 64-82. Van Dijck, J., Poell, T., & Waal, M. (2018). The Platform Society. Oxford University Press.

Williamson, B. (2017). Educating Silicon Valley: Corporate education reform and the reproduction of the techno-economic revolution (pre-publication version). The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies. 39(3), 265-288. e_reproduction_of_the_techno-economic_revolution.

Further Readings: Veliz, C. (2021). Privacy is Power. Bantam Press. Freire, P. (1968). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum.

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