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EdTech and the colonisation of our digital future

The role of EU's Digital Services Act in regulating EdTech and putting humanity in charge

On June 8 2021, hosted by LSE, EDDS convened a webinar to discuss the forthcoming EU legislation and identify the gaps that exist with regards to advancing technologies coming into the education sector. The below is an executive summary of the outcomes and recommendations from the event.

Panellists: Prof. Nick Couldry (Chair), Dr. Velislava Hillman, Dr. Ioanna Noula, MEP Eva Kaili, Prof. Sonia Livingstone, Dr. Ben Wagner, Dr. Desmond Bermingham, Mitzi László

Outcomes and recommendations adopted by the panellists

The discussion was based on the premise that the Digital Services Act does not make any reference to children and the institution of education and it does not provide a rationale for the exclusion of EdTech providers despite them falling within the scope of the regulation. This high level panel of academics, representatives of the EdTech industry and government proposes that the forthcoming EU legislative packages for digital services and markets should include provisions that guarantee children’s rights are protected by design and by default. The panel made proposals related to three key themes:

The rights of the child in education in the digital era.
The role of European EdTech SMEs.
EU as a global regulator of EdTech and beyond.

The proposals put forward by the panel were distinctly characterised by clear consensus and the strong endorsement of expert attendees. The panel highlighted the need for a trusted, empowered and well-resourced body that will develop standards for good practice and ensure industry compliance. The proposals are summarised as follows:

  • A proposal for a Children’s Digital Data Directorate was made, whose core mission would be to safeguard children’s rights in educational environments in the digital era. The Children’s Digital Data Directorate should convene a permanent high-level group on children's rights and education that will operate holistically across the digital environment.

  • Legislation should create incentives for companies to compete ethically and advance an “ethical race to the top”. Legislation development should be characterised by openness and inclusivity ensuring the fair representation of SMEs and their participation in the early stages of the process.

  • Provisions for independent auditing should be considered to assess the compliance, ensure procedural accountability and encourage ethical operations. Clear “red lines” should be laid down that will include minimum standards by design, prohibit high risk applications and set provisions for human-led monitoring in the stages of the design, deployment and evaluation of digital services and products in order to limit unanticipated negative effects.

The high level panel recognises that currently there is no institution that is sufficiently qualified and empowered to fulfil the above-described functions. The establishment of a Committee would inform and support all relevant stakeholders (including SMEs and civil society) and it would remove the need for national education systems to take on the role of sheriff themselves. The proposals above suggest that emerging legislation must reflect the ethos of “pausing and caring” as well as “trusting but verify”.

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