Mariane ter Veen
Mariane ter Veen | INNOPAY
Mariane ter Veen

True digital innovation in the education sector can only be achieved with data sovereignty and interoperability

Mariane ter Veen

INNOPAY’s Mariane ter Veen has just got back from the MyData Conference 2022 in Helsinki. The MyData Conference is the leading international conference on human-centric personal data management. It is organised by MyData Global and brings together stakeholders from all over the world. This year’s theme was all about technology in education. In this blog, Mariane looks back on an inspiring week. 

It was my pleasure to attend this year’s MyData Conference last week at the beautiful Wanha Satama venue in Helsinki. I’d been invited to participate in a panel discussion about creating a fairer data economy and I also represented Edu-V, a data-sharing scheme for the Dutch education sector. During the conference, I explained why data sovereignty and interoperability must be two essential considerations for the education sector during its digital transformation journey. Besides being a great platform to share this message, the MyData Conference 2022 was a valuable opportunity for me to exchange thoughts and ideas with other experts on some of the challenges facing the education sector, particularly in terms of children’s digital rights and consent.

Pushing for a better approach to children’s data 

The conference paid a lot of attention to children’s digital rights. MyData4Children – a working group within MyData Global – and UNICEF have joined forces to boost the digital rights of children and to make this topic a top priority among policymakers and business leaders for the coming years. The key message is that children are less able than adults to understand the long-term implications of consenting to the collection of their data.

MyData4Children is therefore pushing for better government regulation on the one hand, while also calling for companies to take more responsibility for implementing children’s rights by design rather than placing the burden on children to protect their own data. “When we talk about ‘data’ and ‘education’, people immediately think we mean children’s data literacy. This is important, but our ambitions are more profound; we want fair data governance in which children’s rights with regards to their data are guaranteed within the education setting,” said Jasmina Byrne, Chief of Foresight and Policy at UNICEF. 

Two sides of the coin: protection and usage 

While UNICEF and MyData are focusing on children’s digital rights from the point of view of protecting their data, that’s only one side of the coin. After all, ‘privacy’ is not only about protecting your data from being collected, but also about having agency over how any data you generate is subsequently used so that you can share in the benefits. This is what we at INNOPAY refer to as ‘data sovereignty’. During the panel discussion, we were all in clear agreement on the importance of data sovereignty for children and/or their parents. 

The digital transformation undoubtedly offers exciting opportunities in terms of personalised learning paths for children. But if the education sector wants to be truly innovative, it will be necessary to ensure that children (or their parents/guardians) retain control over their data, i.e. data sovereignty, and that the systems are interoperable. Interoperability will have the added benefit of making the use of digital educational materials easier and more seamless. For example, teachers will save time on helping pupils to log in, or on double data entry (e.g. of grades) into multiple stand-alone systems, will gain better visibility into individual pupils’ or students’ progress towards their learning goals, and will be able to utilise digital applications in a safer and more privacy-friendly way. These are all important pillars of flexible and future-focused education. 

Achieving data sovereignty and interoperability 

During the MyData Conference 2022, my underlying message was that it is definitely possible for the education sector to achieve the necessary data sovereignty and interoperability. The key prerequisite is the involvement of all ecosystem participants in order to formalise mutual, uniform agreements about the functional, operational, legal and technical aspects of data sharing. 

This approach is being supported by the European Union, which – in order to help organisations to share data – has introduced the concept of ‘data spaces’  to facilitate the development of such agreements. In fact, data spaces are already being created for various sectors and ecosystems. One example is the preparatory work currently being done for the ‘skills data space’. This is aimed at creating a secure and trusted environment where skills-related data can be shared and accessed for various purposes – ranging from analytical and statistical purposes to policy development or re-use for innovative applications. This data space, like all the others, is based on uniform agreements covering the various aspects of data sharing. 

Edu-V: towards an ecosystem for digital learning resources 

Another promising example of a data space is the Edu-V programme in the Netherlands – and as the manager of this ‘EdTech’ programme, I was happy to explain more about it during the conference. In this project, Dutch schools and suppliers of digital learning resources have taken the initiative to jointly develop agreements about the legal, technical, functional and operational aspects of information exchange. This will support the creation of a data space for education: an ecosystem that will facilitate the simple, safe and trust-based access to – and use of – digital learning resources for primary, secondary, vocational and special educational needs schools.  

Since the programme has only just got underway, there are still many questions to answer. Thankfully, there is a lot of focus, willingness and determination to solve these issues from both the public-sector and private-sector parties in education. And the MyData Conference 2022 was a valuable opportunity for me to exchange thoughts and ideas on some of the challenges with other experts as we move forward into the facilitation process for Edu-V. Innovative and exciting times lie ahead for this EdTech data space! 

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