COVID-19 pandemic has ushered a sense of global urgency around having a resilient and robust digital strategy to ensure continuity of learning in local contexts. While quite a lot of Member States expedited their journey to ‘digitization’(process of changing learning resources from analog to digital form (Gartner Information Technology Glossary, n.d.)) and ‘digitalization’ (use of digital technologies to change a business model and value added processes (Gartner Information Technology Glossary, n.d.)), some Member States used the pandemic as an opportunity to set a vision beyond recovery towards meaningful ‘digital transformation’ which is set of deeper and coordinated shifts transforming the mindset and culture of an organization to ensure that technology can be deployed as a multiplier of impact (Iosad & Education, n.d.). 

United Nations Transforming Education Summit posits that digital transformation in education would require multi-sector and whole-of-society approaches and should be guided by the UN Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation (Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, n.d.) towards ensuring that investments in digital learning accelerate progress toward the education commitments of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and lay foundations for deeper transformations that will strengthen education at all levels (Thematic Action Track 4: Digital Learning and Transformation, n.d.). Inclusive and equitable digital transformation framing and implementation  is often a complex and challenging process with several intertwined challenges that threaten to exacerbate the digital divide rather than bridge it. To guide the Member States policymakers and education leaders we suggest following key focus areas that needs to drive the transformational efforts –

Digital transformation towards evidence-based education planning and goal-setting

A digital transformation strategy should be informed by shared vision, strategy and measurable indicators that enable sustainability and societally-desired evolution powered by participatory strategic planning and robust change management codified protocols providing a dynamic picture of priorities and associated risks. The goal-setting and planning needs to be informed by local context and culture with a realistic understanding of the ability of the key stakeholders ‘to adapt’ to set the optimum pace of a pivotal transformational shift. The transformational pace could be potentially expedited by a clear community engagement strategy like that of codesigning and empowering individuals with citizen science tools that again could be powered by ‘digital’. Partnerships with like-minded stakeholders (both private and public) would also be key to ensure that best practice sharing essential for a resilient digital transformation governance model is not hampered by development of prohibitive information asymmetries (intentional or inadvertent). 

The starting point of a digital transformation journey could start with a readiness assessment of Member States at individual, institutional and governance levels contextualized in the short-, medium- and long-term indicators identified within the strategic planning and shared vision documents. Emerging technologies like AI could effectively help in testing efficacy of interventions on temporal scale as well as running counterfactuals. COVASIM – an individual-based model assessing the impact of easing COVID-19 restrictions project commissioned by the Victorian Department of Health was successfully run in Melbourne during the pandemic, to time the lockdowns, optimize school return as well as defining a clear roadmap for increased testing among vaccinated (COVASIM: Modeling COVID-19 | Burnet Institute, n.d.). Such contextual readiness assessment carried out within Member States could inform the institutional capacity building and resource allocation initiatives to fill the most relevant and high impact gaps that provide better long term societal gains with context of learning. 

As an innovative example of contextual goal setting within the core of digital transformation strategy, implementation of Place-based Education (PBE) in a primary school at Talhogang was conducted with an aim to explore how place-based education (PBE) was implemented in an innovative Bhutanese place-based pilot school while exploring the relationship between PBE and Gross National Happiness (GNH), the guiding developmental philosophy of Bhutan (Dorji et al., 2021). Bhutan’s iSherig-1 and then subsequently the iSherig-2 Education ICT master plan 2019-2023 was developed to gear the power of ICT as an enabling tool in teaching and learning as well as to rationalize and streamline ICT activities, systems and projects across the education sector (MoE, 2019).

Further, approaching education as a complex system using complex systems’ conceptual and methodological tools can help advance education research and also inform policy (Jacobson et al., 2019). In a study at a continuation high school (a school of last resort for students having difficulties in regular high schools), several conceptual perspectives from complex systems, such as self-organization, feedback loops, equilibrium, nonlinearity, and emergence, were used to guide the implementation of a reform to provide access to higher education for these students. These complexity concepts were also used as a means for understanding the ways that the reform unfolded, and to provide a guide (i.e., inform policy) for implementing similar reforms in other high schools. Leveraging these complexity oriented conceptual and methodological digital tools and agents can inform local educational policy by showing different possible futures that various efforts at systemic educational reform might follow, especially as these tools allow ways of examining the often-nonlinear dynamics of educational complex systems within both geographical (nationally, regionally and globally) as well as temporal (short term and long term impact) dimensions.

Digital transformation towards personalized learning and assessment

The digital transformation within the context of education should aim to be learner-centric acknowledging that each learner learns differently, and the learning process is influenced by a complex combination of internal factors (biological including neurobiological) and context (political, social, cultural, institutional, environmental, technological, etc.)(The International Science and Evidence Based Education (ISEE) Assessment, n.d.). One of the key principles grounding the digital transformation efforts is for policymakers to introduce education policies that focus on learner’s individual potential and evaluate each learner’s individual learning progress as opposed to focusing on grade or merit-based assessment and benchmarking learners against each other. Personalized learning and integrated assessments can be powered by leveraging digital pedagogy and ethical artificial intelligence models. Digital transformational initiatives should help ascertain by design that each learner gets the quality education they are entitled to, work at their own pace and be their own benchmark to maximize their potentiality to build a resilient education system for the future. 

The practitioners could leverage Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a scientifically based approach to personalizing learning to provide flexibility and support for all learners agnostic of limitations to physical or mental abilities. Digital transformation framework could codify UDL as an educational framework that recognizes that all children and adolescents learn in different ways and benefit from differentiated learning techniques in the classroom and is applied to educational practices, spaces and materials, seeking to adapt to individual differences and learning styles in flexible school environments (Universal Design for Learning and Accessible Digital Textbooks, n.d.). Pilot programs within Japanese mainstream schools introducing a ULD-approach powered by digital technologies offer students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) enrolled in regular classes the required educational support to accommodate the student’s characteristics and needs (Gronseth & Dalton, 2019).

The case study from the Philippines discusses how the barriers in a distance eLearning context such as geographical location of the learners, poverty and financial constraints; physical disabilities; technology and the digital divide; courses and learning materials not designed for universal access; and fragmented approach to inclusive education were mitigated following the key components of Universal Access to Learning for Development (UAL4D) Framework integral to Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The university website was redesigned to adopt the website content accessibility guidelines, along with student portal redesigned; course materials as Open Educational Resources (OERs). Massive Open and Distance eLearning Courses (MOOCs) along with access through mobile phones and links to industry were improved. Through the development and implementation of the UAL4D framework, the barriers to universal access to learning were addressed. This holistic and comprehensive approach to universal access to learning can contribute to social transformation and to a country’s development. (dela Pena Bandalaria, 2020)

 Similar promising signs for providing not just hindsight and insights but actual foresight to the digital transformation efforts at scale is through Project-/Problem- based Learning (PBL) and Game-based Learning (GBL) personalized approaches that help handle  increasing complexity related to rapid developments in digitalization and emerging societal challenges and develop and adapt to an unpredictable and ever-changing future. In the last term of 2018, the school will employ a project-based learning approach. For example, in Colégio Monte Flor which is a primary school situated in the suburbs of Lisbon, Portugal, a student-centered curriculum was blended with the national curriculum, and students learned all the content by designing, planning and executing their own projects. Assessment focused on content but also on the results of their projects, the way they worked, and the skills they acquired.  At Colégio Monte Flor teachers are preparing students for life, and at the same time promoting a better learning environment, by allowing each student to use digital devices, such as tablets, laptops and interactive white boards, and content including Office 365 for schools and other digital platforms that enhance learning and connect pupils with each other and with the world (Using Technology-Assisted Project Based Learning to Promote 21st Century Skills in Portugal: Case Study by the UNESCO-Fazheng Project on Best Practices in Mobile Learning – UNESCO Digital Library, n.d.).

In India, as a result of diverse contributing factors like outdated learning methodology and imbalance of theoretical and experimental knowledge, over 75% of engineering graduates are not readily employable. They do not possess real-world skills needed by the corporations. There have been pilots carried out by IEEE Madras Section Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology (SIGHT) on students from multiple institutions based on the strategies for a combined approach of project based learning (PBL) and student social responsibility (SSR) leveraging deep digital transformation principles to reinforce real-world skills among undergraduate students to arrive at a dynamic engagement model that proved to be lucrative and contributed significantly in augmenting realworld proficiency of the learners (Anand et al., 2014).

Keeping each learner’s individuality at the core of the digital transformation would help fulfilling principle of “putting the most marginalized learners at the center” to help ensure that investments in digital learning accelerate progress toward the education commitments of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and lay foundations for deeper transformations that will strengthen education at all levels (Thematic Action Track 4: Digital Learning and Transformation, n.d.).

Digital transformation towards Human wellbeing

Digital transformation in the context of education within Member States should acknowledge that it already is affecting every aspect of human endeavor to some degree, including generally accepted concepts within liberal democracies of privacy, autonomy, agency, and the implied contract between citizens and their governments. While other factors have also played a role in changing people’s lives in recent years, it is apparent that digitalisation and its associated technologies are affecting established patterns of human activity and the human networks within which activities take place. There is evidence to suggest that rapid and pervasive change may affect the human brain’s ability to cope, having evolved to operate within smaller human networks. This is mirrored at a macro scale with our social institutions struggling to adapt to rapid technological change (Gluckman & Allen, n.d.). Policy agendas and tools as well as measures for monitoring and sustaining human wellbeing must therefore adapt to take into account the impact of digitalisation and associated technologies. 

A number of ambiguities may also have to be resolved if a robust definition and framing of wellbeing in the digital age is to develop. To understand transformative digital technologies as drivers of change acting on the human values that underpin well being, requires an understanding of these ambiguities and assumptions prevalent in our physical world. This in turn requires an awareness of any bias (cultural, gender-based or generational) that may be influencing the perception of change due to digitalisation. For instance, the very perception of self, privacy and autonomy is not shared in the same way across all cultures (Li, 2022). To be robust, a monitoring, policy, research, or transformational agenda must take this into account along with the dimensions of wellbeing that merit particular scholarly and policy attention: human development and early childhood learning; mental health across the lifespan; personal and public security; social inclusion and trust; and governance and quality decision- making (Gluckman & Allen, n.d.). 

In Colombia and the Gaza Strip, the pilot project project by War Child Holland worked in formal schools with teachers who have had some pre-service training. As the project has a whole school approach, the demographics of the teachers in regards to years of experience, subject focus, age, gender, and pre- and post-service training varied. The model codified leveraging digital was developed to work with individual teachers as much as possible, allowing for some adaptations developing on individual needs. Through a whole school, real time, and continuous quality improvement-based coaching model, the project supported the teachers to build skills in teacher social-emotional competencies, teacher well-being, and positive classroom management (Coaching – Observing – Reflecting – Engaging (CORE) for Teachers: A Well-Being and Support Intervention for Teachers | INEE, n.d.). Also, in the context of an after-school Minecraft club (Näykki et al., 2019) where Minecraft is an example of a constructivist gaming experience in which players can play, modify the game, or even create their own games for learning (Kuhn & Dikkers, 2015). This gaming approach showed a strong pedagogical connection with the contemporary digital education phenomena: “maker’s culture,” making and digital fabrication . While Minecraft is about a block-based world of “digital making,” digital fabrication and making enables learners to design their own artifacts in the situated (unstructured and open-ended) problem solving contexts (Näykki et al., 2019). This case study illuminates what could potentially inform the digital transformation initiatives that care about their stakeholder’s well being while integrating meaningful digital learning experiences for their learners.

Recent findings show that a focus on effective social and emotional learning (SEL) interventions and programs contributes not only to student mental health and reduction in dropout rates and risk behaviors, but also to academic achievement. Comprehensive meta analysis of mindfulness-based interventions implemented in schools leveraging digital have generally had positive results (Zenner et al., 2014). At the same time, schools benefit most from systemic approaches in which innovation and change are introduced coherently throughout the school organization and its curricula). Hence when SEL practices are introduced through holistic approaches that address the learning ecosystem as a whole, results may better stand to sustain over time (Ergas, n.d.).


There are already fairly widespread digital transformation frameworks developed by consulting firms (e.g., Deloitte, McKinsey, PwC, EY, Bain, BCG, Avasant), global corporations (Microsoft, GE, Unilever) academic institutes, and universities (INSEAD, Plymouth, JISC) in broader digital transformation and capability discourses, but within the educational context, above focus areas are deemed relevant and promising to consider and inform policy and flagship initiatives. The complexity of moving from ‘recovery’ to ‘transformation’ lies not just in indiscriminate adoption of ‘digital’ but contextually-relevant meaningful mindset change in key stakeholders towards a resilient, sustainable and improved learning ecosystem that promotes equity and lifelong learning while supporting learners and teachers in a safe and accessible learning environment.


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