It has been one year since schools were forced to move from in-classroom learning to distance learning practically overnight. In the past year, schools have had to focus on digital equity, data security, and privacy concerns.

A new report from the Center for Democracy and Technology found that the need and demand for data and technology continues to grow, but attention to privacy, security, and responsible data use is not keeping pace. The report, which surveyed parents and teachers, serves as an update to a report released in October of last year which was based on data collected from May to August. The report zeroed in on the balance between the benefits of increased use in education technology and the obstacles it presents.

“Technology and data have enabled important educational services like instruction delivery in students’ homes, relationships with caring adults in their lives, and mental health services during a time of crisis,” the report says. “On the other hand, too many students have not been connected with their schools due to inequitable access, and some have even been harmed by ‘Zoombombings’ that inflicted traumatic experiences and cybersecurity attacks that shut down their schools.”

While the report does highlight ongoing concerns, it also found that schools have notched significant improvements since the October report. Most notably, 68 percent of teachers said that all students have received device(s), a 28 point increased over the last report.

There was also a 10 point increase in the number of teachers that report their school has a tech plan in place that addresses student privacy and security – growing from 60 percent to 70 percent. The overwhelming majority of teachers – 86 percent – report that their schools have provided new guidance on technology for use during COVID-19.

As time has gone on, teachers have grown more confident in their school’s ability to select technology platforms. In the last report, only 69 percent of teachers said they trusted their school’s selection of third-party online platforms. The latest data found that 82 percent of teachers now trust their schools.

However, cybersecurity remains a blind spot for schools. A majority of teachers – 75 percent – have not received training on phishing risks and ransomware protection. And despite distance and hybrid learning relying on videoconferencing technologies, 77 percent of teachers have not received training on reducing risks of videoconferencing.

Teachers and parents are expressing concerns regarding student data privacy. The new report found that 59 percent of teachers have discussed data privacy with students – a 6 point increase over the previous report. Almost half of parents – 44 percent – report that their concerns regarding student privacy protection have increased since before COVID-19, compared to 37 percent in the 2020 report. Nearly a quarter of parents – 23 percent – have asked teachers about student data privacy.

To address these ongoing concerns in the use of education technology, education leaders and teachers need to take further action. The report says education stakeholders need to:

  • Continue to establish and update privacy-forward policies;
  • Better equip teachers to use technology responsibly;
  • Address the latest privacy and security risks that pose the greatest threats to students;
  • Engage parents in privacy protection; and
  • Embed privacy protection in efforts to close the homework gap.
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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs