Technology in education – a report on the risks

October 30, 2023

We know that technology is transforming education. But is it improving it?

Not necessarily, according to a new Global Education Monitoring Report from UNESCO.

The report, entitled ‘Technology in Education: A tool on whose terms?’, examines the many disadvantages of technology use in schools and offers suggests for improving the situation. Here are some excerpts.

Harmful effects on learning

  • ‘Mere proximity to a mobile device was found to distract students and to have a negative impact on learning in 14 countries…’

  • ‘Technology use beyond a moderate threshold was associated with diminishing academic gains in an analysis of 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment data.’

  • ‘A meta-analysis of research in 2008–17 across 14 countries found a negative effect of mobile phones on academic performance.’

  • ‘COVID-19 online learning adversely affected younger learners.’

  • ‘Removing smartphones from schools in Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom was found to improve learning outcomes…’

  • ‘More than one in three teachers from seven countries that participated in the 2018 ICILS – and one in two teachers in Denmark – agreed that the use of ICT in classrooms distracts students from learning’.

  • ‘A forthcoming UNESCO publication, An Ed-Tech Tragedy? Educational Technologies and School Closures in the Time of COVID-19, examines education during the pandemic from early 2020 through the end of 2022. It documents how technology-based solutions left a global majority of learners behind and how education was diminished even when technology was available and worked as intended’.

  • ‘The use of smartphones in classrooms leads to students engaging in non-school-related activities, which affects recall and comprehension. A study found that it can take students up to 20 minutes to refocus on what they were learning after engaging in a non-academic activity. Negative effects are also reported in students from the use of personal computers for non-academic activities during class, such as internet browsing, and in their peers who are in view of the screen.’

Concerns about children’s privacy and rights

  • Children’s data are being exposed, yet only 16% of countries explicitly guarantee data privacy in education by law. One analysis found that 89% of 163 education technology products recommended during the pandemic could survey children. Further, 39 of 42 governments providing online education during the pandemic fostered uses that risked or infringed on children’s rights.’

  • Regarding the use of AI: ‘There are risks associated with human rights (e.g. use of surveillance techniques), democracy (e.g. algorithms reproducing prejudices) and legislation (e.g. the possibility of making the use of AI compulsory in education)’

Environmental impacts of digital technology

  • ‘Devices lead to a surplus of e-waste. Extending the lifespan of all smartphones in the European Union by a year would be equivalent to taking over 1,000,000 cars off the road in terms of carbon emissions.’


  • ‘Technology is evolving too fast to permit evaluation that could inform decisions on legislation, policy and regulation.’

Other issues

  • ‘We saw children as young as nine years old requesting smartphones, and it was evident that these children were not emotionally ready to navigate the complexities of these devices and the digital world.’

  • ‘Every country has invested in the use of digital technology in education to some extent. Business rather than education arguments are more commonly deployed to justify countries’ investments. Often investments are based on a belief that technology is a good in itself.’

What should be done

‘Governments should ‘Adopt and implement legislation, standards and agreed good practices to protect learners’ and teachers’ human rights, well-being and online safety, taking into account screen and connection time, privacy, and data protection; to ensure that data generated in the course of digital learning and beyond are analysed only as a public good; to prevent student and teacher surveillance; to guard against commercial advertising in educational settings; and to regulate the ethical use of artificial intelligence in education.’

Bans in schools

The report said that studies from Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom show that banning mobile phones from schools improves academic performance, especially for low-performing students. Analysis for this report shows that, globally, almost one in four countries has introduced such bans in laws or policies.

UNESCO. 2023. Global Education Monitoring Report 2023: Technology in education – A tool on whose terms? Paris, UNESCO

Meters - Radiofrequency Radiation

Measure the radiation from the technology in your school/your child’s school with one of our wireless meters here.

What can you do?

  • Encourage your child to spend time in nature to help counteract the effects of technology-related stress.

  • Encourage your child to read books!

  • Forward this email to others to inform them, too.

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