Kindergarten students learn from an iPad

During the 2020 International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD) Erlend Overby, Chair of ISO/IEC SC 36 for Learning, Education and Training (ITLET), participated in the session on ICT standards for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Overby presented SC 36 standardization activities, which cover all aspects from formal education within schools and higher education, to training within industry and lifelong learning.

Technology is everywhere and changing many aspects of daily life, such as how we live, work and learn. Its use in education has the promise of making it available for all, at a lower cost, and adapted to individual needs and preferences.

“If more people have access to high quality educational resources and tools, it becomes easier to meet the goal of UN SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. With support of standards, technology has the potential of meeting these requirements within education,” said Overby.

Digital content is being made freely available to more people in their own language as demonstrated by the Global Digital Library. By using a combination of technologies, content is more accessible, including those who normally may not have access or the possibility to consume digital content.

“In order to build better services and gain more insights, we must focus on interoperability and harmonization of how we view and gather data. ICT standardization can help to achieve all the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs),” said Overby.

The impact of COVID 19 on education

COVID-19 caused governments to close schools and tertiary institutions overnight, and rethink how to deliver education. It also raised questions, such as how equipped are learning institutions to carry out entire curriculums remotely and how will learners be assessed, and teaching happen in this new set up? How do families without the appropriate hardware and/or an Internet connection manage? Seven months on, we live with the pandemic and its spikes.

While students in some parts of the world have gone back to school or university, this is not the case everywhere, and many schools are now prepared to return to remote teaching. If there had been more IT standards within the educational domain, it would have been easier to switch to digital education.

“The education sector wasn’t ready for COVID 19, which forced schools, universities and training institutions to go virtual. The learning curve has been steep, but the pandemic has raised awareness of how IT can help education and that people can learn anywhere, so long as they have access to internet and appropriate technology and teachers who are prepared to teach them virtually. We also anticipate that the increased use of on-line tools will have an impact on how schools organize their education when the COVID 19 pandemic are under control.”

Erlend Overby talks IT standards for education
Erlend Overby at ICSD 2020

Benefits of global education standards

As IT becomes an integrated part of all aspects of our educational systems, there is an increased need for systems to exchange information about their learners, their educators, the curriculums, the learning goals, the grades and badges, the achievements, the attendance, and all other aspects of the schools activities. Systems and procedures should support educators, while following learners as their education evolves in different educational institutions.

Global standards for interoperability between systems would mean that providers would only need to create one integration point for each service. This would lower costs and increase flexibility when choosing a service provider.

“In the longer run we’ll see the huge benefits of technology that supports teachers, students, parents and schools by providing tools that can be tailored to specific needs. There will be more vendors of educational IT tools and apps, more data being produced and more students. The ecosystem will need to have commonalities and we will need standards to ensure these tools are interoperable across institutions,” said Overby.

Important recommendation to the education sector

Overby stressed that if global standards are to be implemented, school owners and ministries of education must request that standards are followed by all providers of technology for educational systems, to enable information to flow easily between systems.

“The competition between providers of technology should be based on the quality of the learning resources and their pedagogical value, rather than on services which lock data in silos in closed eco-systems.”

Key educational domains requiring standards

SC 36 has identified four principal domains that require a number of standards to better meet the needs of educational institutions. These standards should specify how the different systems within these domains share and exchange information within the domain, but also across the domains.

“When systems within these domains have standardized their models for sharing, exchanging and governing data, we are more likely to get equal high-quality education for all,’ said Overby.

The four domains include:

1) School Administrative Systems (SAS) – systems used to manage all educators, learners, their classes and subjects, as well as most administrative information governing the educational institution.

2) Learning Management Systems (LMS) – systems used by educators to manage the work of learners, tasks they are assigned and submissions dates. The LMS also contains information about the learning paths of the individual learner and the resources they should access to meet the expected learning outcome.

3) Digital Learning Resources (DLR) – resources accessed by learners to access the knowledge and insights required to acquire new skills and competencies. DLRs are usually designed to meet knowledge requirements as specified in different national curricula. They exist in many variants (plain text files, complex VR models).

4) Pedagogical Learning Services (PLS) – services that guide and support educational institutions to ensure that educators reach their learning and educational goals. Some examples include learning analytics and collaborative services which support learners.

About ICSD

The International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD) was established in 2013 to provide academia, government, civil society, UN agencies, and the private sector with the opportunity to share practical solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The ICSD 2020 two-day event included 14 sessions, 10 panels and other side events, which covered diverse topics such as education, job opportunities and clean energy transition, multilateral financing for SDGs in Africa and Asia (examples), ICT standards for the Sustainable Development Goals, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction for cities, food production, waste management and the circular economy, land use and industrial animal agriculture and much more.