Theresa Henne, Universität Wien

STATIC DATA - MOVING MINDS. Investigating the Right to Personal Development of the Child in Datafied Learning

When children go to school, they enter a space that is increasingly infused with digital technologies. During the Covid-19-pandemic, the trend of introducing so-called educational technology (edtech) into the classrooms was further accelerated by the sudden need to provide education at a distance. The capture of school life and the learning process in digital data is referred to as the ‘datafication’. A focus of previous research lay on problematizing the datafication of education based on privacy and data protection concerns, mirroring a broader debate about the protection of privacy in light of increasing surveillance by state and private actors. The dominance of this particular framing of datafication and digitalisation might leave us, as Sharon (2021) puts it, ‘blind-sided by privacy’ (p.545).
Responding to this critique, I will investigate datafied learning from the perspective of the right to personal development. The concept of ‘personal development’ is central to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), referred to in several international human rights frameworks and also rooted in the German Basic Law and the Austrian Civil Law. Art. 29 (1a) of the CRC declares that the development of the child’s personality shall be a fundamental purpose of education.
Also, the language surrounding edtech, and, in particular, the sub-domain of personalised learning technology, seems to echo the aim of supporting the personal development of children determined in the CRC. However, applying algorithmic systems to curate the learning pathway according to a student’s data profile can only be considered one element (if at all) of establishing favourable conditions for
personal development of children. Besides the opportunities digital tools present in realizing such conditions, there is also concern about how the datafication of learning and the application of algorithmic systems can transform and limit the ways a child can develop their personality. For example, children might be confined by the limits of their ‘data double’ if data is considered as a proxy, or even an accurate representation of a human’s personality. The static nature of data, depicting only a fraction of time and a small aspect of children’s development, is, hence, considered as potentially in conflict with the openness of the human personality, which is protected by the right to personal development.
This dissertation aims to better understand how the right to personal development is conceptualized and what conditions are considered constitutive for its realization. In my empirical research I will focus on Germany and Austria to answer my research question: How is the child’s right to development of the personality envisioned and practiced in datafied learning?


Sharon, Tamar. 2021. ‘Blind-Sided by Privacy? Digital Contact Tracing, the Apple/Google API and Big Tech’s Newfound
Role as Global Health Policy Makers’. Ethics and Information Technology 23(1):45–57. doi: 10.1007/s10676-020-