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  • 13 May, 2021

  • 5 Min Read

Digital Education- EdTech needs an ethics policy

Digital Education- EdTech needs an ethics policy


  • The lack of a regulatory framework in India along the lines of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe could impinge on the privacy of students who now use educational technology (EdTech) apps for learning.

The dominance of online education

  • Since the onset of the pandemic, online education has replaced conventional classroom instruction.
  • This has spawned several EdTech apps which have become popular.
  • Schools and colleges have been able to move their content delivery, engagement and evaluation from offline to online and ensure minimal academic disruption.
  • This exercise has forced teachers to become facilitators in learning rather than content providers.
  • The EdTech apps have the advantage of being able to customise learning to every student in the system.

Storing the smallest details

  • To perform the process of learning customisation, the apps collect large quantities of data from the learners through the gadgets that the students use.
  • These data are analysed in minute detail to customise learning and design future versions of the app.
  • The latest mobile phones and hand-held devices have a range of sensors like GPS, gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer and biometric sensors apart from the camera and microphones.
  • These provide data about the learner’s surroundings along with intimate data like the emotions and attitudes experienced and expressed via facial expressions and body temperature changes.
  • In short, the app and device have access to the private spaces of the learner that one would not normally have access to.
  • Researchers dealing with human subjects need to comply with ethics rules that committees of their respective research organisations formulate, along with global standards.
  • One of the cardinal rules that should never be broken is informed consent.
  • Before any research on human subjects is undertaken, researchers have to submit detailed proposals to their respective ethics committees and obtain their permission.
  • Those proposals and permissions are subject to transparent external reviews.
  • Further, a researcher working with children, for example, would also have to convince schoolteachers, parents, and school management about the nature of the research to be undertaken, type of data to be collected, the method of storage, the potentially harmful effects of such data, etc.
  • All this should be done in writing while giving the learner the option to opt-out of the study at any point of time without any repercussions.

Minimal safeguards

  • However, in the EdTech industry, where investments are pouring in, researchers and app developers are being pushed to be as intrusive as possible.
  • The safeguards that traditional researchers are subject to are either missing or minimal in research that the EdTech industry promotes.
  • Children use these apps without parental or adult supervision.
  • The intrusion of privacy can happen unnoticed.
  • The concept of informed consent is not meaningful since there are no proper primers to explain to stakeholders the intricacies in layperson terms.
  • Further, there is no option to stop using the app without some repercussions.


  • Since India does not have protection equivalent to the GDPR, private data collected by an EdTech company can be misused or sold to other companies with no oversight or protection.
    • Facebook manipulated the emotions of 7,00,000 users by changing the type of posts that were shown to the user.

Way forward

  • Given these realities, it is necessary to formulate an ethics policy for EdTech companies through the active participation of educators, researchers, parents, learners and industry experts.
  • Such a policy draft should be circulated both online and offline for discussion and criticism.
  • Issues of fairness, safety, confidentiality and anonymity of the user would have to be dealt with.
  • EdTech companies would have to be encouraged to comply in the interest of a healthier learning ecosystem.

Source: TH


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