12. Public procurement: shaping digital education ecosystems

Quentin Vidal

Digitalisation has made technology-related products and services integral parts of countries’ educational infrastructure, whether they support system and school management or with teaching and learning (see Part I of this Volume). This infrastructure encompasses both hardware (e.g., digital materials, Internet connectivity) and software (e.g., information and learning management systems, digital teaching and learning resources), as well as teacher digital training and development, and data security and privacy services. With different approaches, countries procure digital tools and resources from commercial vendors in the educational technology industry (hereafter “EdTech”). Publicly procured tools may be used by governments themselves, by schools, teachers, and students. Even for tools and resources that are neither publicly provided nor procured, governments may guide and regulate schools’, teachers’ and students’ procurement processes in education. This is particularly important as technology tools and resources are typically more expensive than textbooks and other educational materials and might require an expertise that is not typically available in educational settings.

Public procurement, also known as government procurement, refers to the formal procedures and processes by which government entities, such as central, federal, state, or local governments, agencies, or state-owned enterprises, purchase goods, services, or works from external suppliers or vendors (OECD, 2009[1]). It includes the acquisition through purchase, rental, or lease, but also public-private partnerships, concessions, and other contractual arrangements, as well as the use of public funds for grants, loans, and other forms of financial assistance.

In the context of education, public authorities resort to procurement to acquire various products and services that they consider necessary for the functioning of the education system and schools but that they do not develop, own, and provide themselves. Public procurement in education ranges from the purchase of textbooks, school supplies, building maintenance services, transportation services, up to the construction of new educational facilities. This chapter focuses on the procurement of soft digital infrastructure (software tools and resources) and does not cover hardware procurement (see (Fragoso, 2023[2])).

Public procurement typically involves several stages. After a government identifies the needs, it publishes a request for proposals (RFP) or a tender document, inviting bids from potential suppliers in a transparent and competitive manner. Typically, a selection committee assesses these bids based on pre-defined criteria, leading to the awarding of the contract to the chosen supplier, often following negotiations on terms and conditions. Once the contract is in effect, monitoring mechanisms may be employed to uphold quality and compliance with the agreed-upon terms.

These processes are designed to ensure transparency, fairness, competition, and accountability in government spending (OECD, 2021[3]). The OECD Recommendation on the Governance of infrastructure highlights 1) selecting contractors based on criteria combining qualitative and financial elements and including an assessment of costs, benefits and impacts incurred throughout the life cycle of the asset; 2) carefully evaluating optimal risk allocation and the use of value-for-money analytical tools to compare assessments of service delivery options; and 3) implementing balanced contractual relationships, holding contractors accountable for project specifications and professional standards.

In education specifically, countries have set guidelines and guardrails to ensure that taxpayer funds are used to procure equitable and effective tools and resources. In particular, for countries with more decentralised governance and devolved lines of responsibility, ensuring the equity of access to, and use of, digital infrastructure in schools is a challenge. Centralising public procurement, or centralising the regulation of schools’ and teachers’ procurement, may help provide at least a homogenous access to the main components of a digital education infrastructure – even if gaps may remain in practice.

This chapter is organised as follows: it starts by presenting some of the procurement policies and practices across countries, notably with information collected through the OECD survey on digital education infrastructure and governance. It highlights the different strategies used by countries and the different objectives pursued by countries. The conclusion summarises the findings, points to some tensions in procurement regulation efforts and highlights the importance of public procurement to reach its policy objectives by incentives.

Governments procure large amounts of goods and services to implement policies and deliver public services across sectors. Public procurement expenditure as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) increased significantly across the OECD over the last decade, from 11.8% of GDP in 2007 to 12.9% of GDP in 2021 (OECD, 2023[4]). Public procurement is used across all socio-economic objectives, from health to environmental protection, public order and economic affairs (comprising infrastructure, transport, communication, energy and R&D). While health accounts for the largest share of public procurement spending, at 31.9% of an average OECD country’s public procurement in 2021, education comes third, at 10.7%, with relatively small variations across countries (Figure 12.1, Figure 12.2Figure 12.3). However, comparative evidence on public expenditure digital education remains limited (Box 12.1).

Our comparative analysis covers 29 countries and jurisdictions The answers to the questionnaires were validated through meetings with the responding country team and expanded through desk research (see the related publication Country Digital Education Ecosystems and Governance. A companion to Digital Education Outlook 2023 (OECD, 2023[10]).

Most of the countries and jurisdictions that have taken part in our data collection centrally procure some digital tools and resources for schools (European Commission, 2023[11]). Out of 29 countries/jurisdictions, 21 (or more than two thirds) centrally procure some of those digital tools and resources, and 11 (more than a third) mandate another organisation to do it, generally a public agency (Table 12.1 and Figure 12.1, Figure 12.2 and Figure 12.3).

In the eight countries and jurisdictions that do not centrally procure digital tools and resources, the central government plays little to no role in the provision and maintenance of the digital education infrastructure (e.g., Czechia and the Netherlands, where schools are free to procure their own digital solutions as long as they meet government-set targets); central governments devolve most responsibilities to lower levels of government (e.g. to states in the United States or to municipalities in Finland and Sweden) or central governments develop and own (instead of procure) most of the digital solutions they provide, leaving schools the autonomy to add to that ecosystem through their own procurement (e.g. Italy, the French community of Belgium). All of them, except Czechia and Finland, provide procurement guidance to their schools.

Countries have different governance approaches to public procurement in education, and in digital education in particular. Those approaches generally follow the lines of governance and responsibility of the education systems. The sections below categorise those mechanisms from the more centralised to the more decentralised approaches, noting that such mechanisms are not mutually exclusive. Our study indicates that countries typically resort to a mix of different approaches.

Out of 29 countries/jurisdictions for which we have comparative information, 21 (that is, more than two thirds) centrally procure digital tools for system and school management digital or resources for teaching and learning, or both. Among them, 11 share this responsibility with a national agency that sits outside of the ministry (or department) of education.

Typical cases of direct procurement conducted from the central level concern the large-scale acquisition of licences to allow for massive access to and use of products or services from commercial EdTech providers. For instance, in Austria (see Box 12.2), the Flemish Community of Belgium, Lithuania, and Luxembourg, the central government procures access to Microsoft Office 365 licences for everyone enrolled in the education system, including school principals, teachers, and students. It is sometimes a legacy of the COVID-19 crisis and of the urge to maintain contact with students during school closures, through Microsoft Teams for instance. System management tools, when they are not publicly owned by the central government but acquired from commercial providers, are also purchased through procurement conducted at the central level. This is notably the case of the student information system (SIS) in 7 countries out of 29 for which we have comparative information. School management tools, however, are more often procured by sub-governmental authorities, or schools themselves. For instance, commercial learning management systems (LMS) are procured by public authorities for the schools they are responsible for in 10 countries, including several Canadian provinces and territories, US districts and Nordic municipalities; and by schools themselves in 14 countries (see (Vincent-Lancrin, 2023[12])).

Among the 21 countries that centrally procure digital tools and resources, several have a mostly centralised procurement, either because central governments hold the greatest responsibility for the provision and maintenance of digital infrastructure in education, or because schools are not incentivised through (financial) support or guidance to procure their own tools and resources. Typically, they are the more centralised (e.g., Hungary) or the smaller (e.g., Iceland) education systems.

In Hungary, the ministry of education and its specialised agencies play a significant role in the provision and support of digital tools and resources to primary and secondary schools, in line with its central role in the education system. Schools are free to procure their own tools and resources until a certain price, but more expensive acquisitions are the responsibility of their respective maintainers. To support them, the Klebelsberg Centre aggregates school district centres’ demands (which were themselves aggregated from schools) and leads the procurement process for digital tools and resources requested by public primary and secondary schools. Centralising schools’ demand increases their negotiation power with external provider, notably in terms of price, and benefits from a higher availability of technical competences.

In France, the government directly procures digital tools and resources that interested schools can use (or not). Procurement is generally conducted by the ministry and its agencies, such as the CANOPÉ Network; but other public national or regional institutions such as the Banque des territoires (“the regional bank”) may also fulfil that role. The French government procures digital tools and resources from external partners to complement the ones it publicly develops and provides. For instance, in 2016 a public tender resulted in the development of several Banks of Educational Digital Resources for School (BRNE) by French publishers and EdTech companies. The BRNE provide access to thousands of digital teaching and learning resources, tools for creation, and services for dissemination and interaction between teachers and students. Thanks to the strong relationships developed between the ministry and contractors during the procurement phase, publishers were able to fully align the BRNE’s pedagogical content with the French national curriculum in all disciplines and grades.

However, this does not prevent schools in France to procure their own digital solutions as well. Recent projects such as the resource account (“compte ressources”) sought to give schools (and teachers) more autonomy to procure additional digital tools and resources at their discretion – or at the discretion of their local authorities, in the case of primary schools. To accompany schools in their procurement choices, the ministry has set up the Gestionnaire d’Accès aux Ressources Numériques (“Digital Resources Access Manager”, or GAR), a publicly operated interface between schools and EdTech providers. Through this interface, the ministry imposes criteria on the purchase of digital solutions and resources with regard to equity of access, interoperability, and security; and it delivers a security label to resources provided by EdTech firms on the GAR catalogue. In addition to guiding and procurement criteria, the ministry provides general guidance to schools related to their procurement practices.1

Centralising procurement practices can reduce the complexity and risks associated with procurement, improve efficiency via economies of scale, and ensure systems are interoperable (OECD, 2023[9]). A centralised strategy may also be suitable when institutions have low internal capacity and resources to dedicate to a procurement strategy. However, in institutions that can build that capacity, centralised services can be perceived as rigid, slow and unable to tackle requests not prioritised in the national agenda (OECD, 2021[13]).

A second, semi-centralised approach to procurement is observed in countries that publicly provide or procure some digital tools and resources centrally but also allow and support schools to procure their own, pending government approval. This is typically the case in Nordic countries, where the governance of the education system is shared between the central government and local authorities; or in countries where schools have a certain degree of autonomy to procure their own solutions in line with the central government’s supervision.

Countries typically resort to two mechanisms to control schools’ procurement choices. They can pre-approve lists of digital tools from which schools are free to choose from (ex-ante); or they can grant permission to schools for the use of a specific tools on a case-by-case basis (ad-hoc); or both. Out of 29 countries and jurisdictions for which we have comparative information, nine (almost a third) have lists of pre-approved digital tools from which schools are free to choose from, sometimes instead of the publicly provided tools; and seven grant permission to schools before they purchase specific digital tools or resources. Two of them (Denmark and Italy) resort to both ex-ante and ad-hoc mechanisms – although this is conducted collectively by municipalities in Denmark. Countries and jurisdictions that want to guide schools’ procurement choices without actively controlling them can enact criteria on procurement, as detailed in the next section.

Denmark provides a good illustration of the Nordic countries’ approach. The Danish ministry devolves the procurement of digital tools to municipalities. Municipalities are provided with central funding and with a list of pre-approved tools to choose from to equip their schools. When schools themselves want (or need) to acquire digital solutions, the Statens og Kommunernes Indkøbsservice A/S (SKI, or “State and Municipal Purchasing Service”) grants permission on a case-by-case basis through it is a taten sog digital platform.2 SKI is an agency mandated by the government to streamline and professionalise public procurement across sectors, including education. It was founded in 1994 as a limited company and co-owned by the Danish government and Local Government Denmark. Out of the approximately EUR 49 billion that the Danish public sector spends every year to purchase goods and services from private companies, 2.5% are channelled through SKI. In education as in other sectors, the platform’s objective is to secure good quality products and services at better prices and conditions than each individual public organisation (e.g., single schools) can obtain alone. At the local level, KOMBIT, the municipalities’ joint IT organisation, provides municipalities with further guidance on the procurement of digital tools and resources and help them negotiate with vendors for better prices and quality.

In Italy, the ministry facilitates schools’ access to digital tools and resources through a centralised procurement application called Protocolli In Rete. The application is accessible via the SIDI platform (Sistema Informativo Dell’Istruzione, Italy’s student information system) and enables schools to browse among and choose private tools approved by the ministry, as well as to apply for ministry funding for specific projects detailed in Italy’s most recent digital education strategy (Piano Nazionale Scuola Digitale). Private providers use the same application to obtain ministry approval and make available their goods and services to schools.

More decentralised procurement practices may enable schools (or school districts) to usually benefit from flexibility in choosing tools and resources aligned with their specific needs. However, they also entail higher sales costs for companies, more difficulties to navigate a variety of procurement procedures and fewer opportunities for companies to scale as demand remains fragmented (OECD, 2023[9]).

In countries where schools (and teachers) operate with a larger degree of autonomy from the central or local governments, schools (and to a lesser extent teachers) are typically free to purchase the digital solutions that they want. They may nonetheless receive support or guidance from the government. Indeed, taking responsibility for the acquisition of digital education infrastructure requires schools to have sufficient information, capacity and skills to navigate a wealth of education technologies products, services and tools, as well as an understanding of procurement procedures to make effective choices (OECD, 2023[9]). While devolving procurement to schools presents the advantage of meeting each school needs in the construction of their own consistent digital ecosystem, it must come with proper guidance or schools may end up acquiring technology that requires too much IT support or is too complex to use. leading to under-utilisation. At the same time, decentralising procurement releases central government from the need for continuous investment to avoid rapid obsolescence. Indeed, enhancing digital infrastructure is not a one-time investment but comes with continuous costs associated with maintaining and upgrading technologies acquired and providing the necessary support for their use (OECD, 2022[14]). Ensuring sufficient access to digital equipment and tools requires anticipating investment needs before shortages and inadequacies arise, which schools and end-users may be more prone to detect than central governments.

Out of 29 countries/jurisdictions for which we have comparative information, 15 negotiate the prices of digital solutions with EdTech suppliers on behalf of schools, typically to place larger orders to negotiate lower prices and more favourable contractual conditions. In Lithuania for instance, while schools and teachers have full autonomy to procure digital tools and resources, the ministry assists them in all medium-to-large sized procurements. Together with the Central Procurement Agency, the ministry negotiates with suppliers the price and contractual conditions of the digital solutions that schools want to acquire through grants, financial incentives, or non-earmarked subsidies (schools’ operational budget in the case of publicly funded schools). The ministry also published lists of recommended – rather than pre-authorised – solutions for schools to choose from as well as general guidance on procurement processes.

Indeed, even if not involved in price negotiation, governments can support school procurement choices by offering guidance. Out of 29 countries/jurisdictions for which we have comparative information, 21 provide schools with national/central guidance on the procurement of digital tools and resources, including with legal brochures, step-by-step guides, dedicated platforms, and recommended resources. In countries where procurement practices are at least partly decentralised, guidance on the “how” to procure is common. Guidance on the “what” to procure, however, is less prevalent.

Often, procurement guidance comes from distinct governance levels within the education system. In Sweden, while municipalities, schools and teachers are granted full autonomy to procure digital tools and resources, the central government supports them in various ways. First, it provides municipalities with funding to complement the budget they raise from local taxes – although this funding is not earmarked for the acquisition of digital infrastructure. Second, when schools or teachers themselves want to purchase additional digital tools with their operational budget, they receive general guidance from the ministry’s National Agency for Public Procurement and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR). The former provides general support and explanations around the rules and regulations for public procurement as framed in the Act on Systems of Choice (“LOV”), while the latter offers more specific support to schools and teachers within the framework of the School Digitalisation Support initiative (Skoldigistöd), in the form of customer support and seminars for successful procurement of digital solutions.3 As part of this initiative, SALAR has collaborated with two limited companies wholly owned by Swedish regions and municipalities (Adda and Inera) whose missions are to offer business and digitalisation support for the public sector. This collaboration was overseen by the Swedish National Agency for Education. Beyond support for procurement, the initiative aims to support and guide school principals towards the objectives outlined by the 2017 National Digital Strategy for the School System, in particular as regards access to digital resources and school development. SALAR’s support to municipalities also focused on the issue of lock-in effects related to procurement practices, raising awareness on both the benefits and drawbacks associated with building a local digital ecosystem with tools and resources from a limited number of providers. Recent discussions have focused on finding the right balance between integration, interoperability, and the technical lock-ins that such a unified system may create, making the use of alternative tools increasingly intricate.4 Finland follows a similarly decentralised approach to procurement, even though Finnish schools receive a larger portion of their budget from the central government compared to Sweden. Finnish municipalities procure tools for school management and resources for teaching and learning. The ministry provides municipalities with non-earmarked subsidies to conduct those procurement as per the central acts on public contracts. The ministry and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities jointly maintain the Public Procurement Advisory Unit, whose role is to provide contracting authorities at a lower level of government (i.e. municipalities in education) with information and advice on the application of procurement legislation.

Establishing information platforms on procurement frameworks, EdTech providers and available tools and resources is one solution to bridge the information gaps between different levels of governance (from the central government to single schools and teachers). In England (United Kingdom) for instance, the Department for Education’s school procurement guidance service explains the benefits of using existing framework contracts, proposes cost-efficient alternatives based on feedback from schools and supports compliance with the relevant procurement regulations (Gov.uk, 2022[15]; OECD, 2023[9]). In addition, the government provides schools with digital and technology guidelines and is developing a tool to help schools to benchmark themselves and to identify technologies they should have in place (Department for Education, 2022[16]). In the Netherlands, given the decentralised structure and high educational autonomy of schools, the government does not enact criteria for procuring digital infrastructure. Nonetheless, to support the use of various private tools and resources that schools may acquire, Kennisnet, a government’s public agency, has developed a step-by-step school guide to choosing digital learning resources, and, together with school boards, created a database called the Catalogue Information Connection Point (Koppelpunt Catalogusinformatie), which provides schools with a comprehensive overview of available digital learning resources. Schools can also join SIVON, the cooperative of school boards for procuring educational resources, exchanging knowledge and expertise, collectively organising demand bundling, jointly purchasing ICT facilities, and ensuring favourable conditions in price-quality of ICT products and services for schools.5

Countries do and should use procurement to shape the nature of digital education tools and resources available to administrators, schools, teachers, students, and parents. Governments may decide on their own what can be publicly procured, but they can also guide, regulate, influence, or incentivise other public and private stakeholders’ procurement choices (see Table 12.1). This section compares how countries use different procurement levers to guide both central and local procurement practices and drive changes and innovation in their preferred directions, notably restrictive criteria to publicly purchase tools and resources.

In most cases, countries enact restrictive criteria to ensure that procured tools and resources meet their data protection and privacy regulation as well as certain cyber-security standards.

In France, the ministry uses the Gestionnaire d’Accès aux Ressources Numériques (GAR, Digital Resources Access Manager), a publicly operated interface between schools and EdTech providers, to ensure a certain level of cyber-security for schools’ purchases. For instance, the ministry delivers a security label to resources provided by EdTech firms that meet the technical requirements to be on the GAR catalogue. The government funds individuals’ and organisations’ development projects if their digital resources they meet certain eligibility criteria, one of them being compliance with data protection and privacy rules. Through the GAR, France also imposes procurement criteria regarding equity of access (resources must be accessible for students with special needs) and interoperability (some interoperability standards must be respected).

Denmark expands its digital education ecosystem by providing municipalities with funding as agreed upon by the 2015 User Portal Initiative, and sometimes with a list of pre-approved solutions to choose from. When schools want (or need) to equip themselves with their own digital tools and resources, SKI (the agency in charge of municipal procurement) may grant permission on a case by case basis. In the latter case, the ministry imposes criteria with regard to security as enacted in the Systemrevisionsbekendtgørelsen, a 2021 legal order on requirements for digital tools used in education. This showcases how countries can ensure that schools use tools and resources that comply with national data protection and security measures without necessarily taking responsibility for their provision or procurement.

In all surveyed countries, education stakeholders have access to a mix of publicly and privately provided digital tools and resources. Ensuring a minimal level of interoperability between various tools and resources so that they can interact, exchange data, and function harmoniously is a key policy objective in most countries (see (Vincent-Lancrin and González-Sancho, 2023[17]) for more on the interoperability of digital ecosystems). Ensuring that tools and resources follow certain interoperability principles during the procurement process, whether centrally or locally managed, is one way to embed interoperability features into digital tools and resources.

Government incentives (through rules or guidelines) are most often placed on the demand side, by encouraging (or requiring) education stakeholders to choose tools and resources that are pre-approved or by imposing explicit interoperability criteria on public procurement. In the Northwest Territories (Canada), the territorial government recommends that schools consider data interoperability in their procurement processes; in Latvia, central guidelines for public procurement in the field of ICT feature interoperability as one of the key elements to consider when digital technologies and resources are procured.6

But incentives could also be placed on the supply side, as it is the case to pursue other objectives than interoperability. In Finland, Finnish EdTech companies are incentivised to embed MPASSid, the national single sign-on (SSO) service, into their products. There is no formal or regulatory criterion, but it has become a standard practice. Similar practices could incentivise national EdTech companies to develop and sell products that are interoperable with the rest of the country’s digital ecosystem.

Governments can leverage public procurement and regulate local procurement to promote equitable (or minimal) access to digital education infrastructure, reduce digital divides, and foster inclusion. As of 2024, such efforts were mainly aimed at the latter objective. Some countries and jurisdictions have laws that impose schools to procure digital tools and resources that can be accessible to everyone, inclusive of students with special needs. When not possible in practice, then an alternative should be provided.

In the Flemish community of Belgium, the ministry of education provides schools with a mix of earmarked and non-earmarked subsidies. Earmarked subsidies are channelled through the Digisprong action plan and are meant to cover the acquisition of digital resources for teaching and learning, while non-earmarked subsidies (i.e. schools’ operational budget) can be spent on any types of resources. With those subsidies, schools have the autonomy to procure digital tools and resources on their own. Nonetheless, the ministry provides procurement guidance and has circulated non-binding criteria on schools’ purchases, among which one relates to equity of access, and in particular accessibility for students with special needs. With the Digisprong funding, schools are explicitly invited to purchase ICT equipment as well as digital tools and resources that can support students with special needs (e.g. an adapted keyboard or mouse). In case of one-to-one programmes in schools that procure one laptop per student, Digisprong also recommends to prefer loan arrangements (with no deposit) for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, rather than upfront payment.7

A similar procurement policy exists in the United States. States and school districts have full autonomy in their procurement choices and how much digital tools and resources they decide to provide, which can in principle lead to very differing access to technology across schools. However, they have to provide equitable access for students with disabilities, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). They also have to meet the security and privacy obligations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), and the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA).

Finally, a less prevalent type of criteria placed on procurement decisions in education may be enacted to require schools to acquire tools and resources whose effectiveness has been evidenced, in terms of technology capacity (e.g. the accuracy of its diagnosis, its prediction power) or as regards its effects on learning outcomes. This type of procurement policy is common practice in the health sector for instance.

None of the 29 jurisdictions that took part in our 2024 data collection have enacted such criteria. Evidence of effectiveness of digital technology is scarce, often restricted to specific context, and still ill-defined, which might make it difficult to limit procurement choices to tools and resources whose effectiveness has been proven. In some countries, option for allegedly effective tools and resources is nonetheless advanced as a decisive factor to consider when procuring digital technology.

In the United States, the federal government attaches evidence requirements for digital tools and resources procured with some federal funds within states, districts, and schools. Priority should indeed be given to Every Student Succeeds Act's definition of “evidence-based” resources, which defines evidence according to a continuum between “promising” and “proven” by a randomised control trial. The Office of Educational Technology, which offers guidance on procurement of educational technologies, has developed an EdTech Evidence Toolkit to help local education authorities prioritise evidence-based decisions on the adoption and use of educational technology in schools.8

In Hungary, the Digital Governmental Agency (DKÜ) placed under the cabinet of the Prime Ministry is in charge of unifying and harmonising IT procurement processes across sectors, including in education. Along with price and compatibility with commonly used tools and resources, DKÜ encourage schools to integrate the effectiveness of the product they want to procure as a decisive factor. Although DKÜ itself does not negotiate prices, it nonetheless regulates the amount of latitude procuring institutions can have when negotiating in each process.

Countries leverage multiple procurement strategies, usually according to their models of provision and governance of digital infrastructure in education. In the more centralised education systems, governments tend to directly procure digital tools for system and school management and sometimes resources for teaching and learning. In the more decentralised education systems, governments tend to leave this decision to lower level of governments (down to schools themselves) while providing guidance on how to procure, and more occasionally on what to procure. Across the board, some countries and jurisdictions issue regulation, deliver ex-ante or ad-hoc approbations, enact binding or non-binding procurement criteria, and provide dedicated support.

Those approaches are not mutually exclusive, and many countries resort to several of those levers to shape their digital ecosystem in education. As of 2024, most public efforts to guide, support or regulate decentralised procurement choices focus on economies of scales and ensuring security and compliance with data protection regulation. Some governments have also thrived to foster interoperability between the various digital tools and resources available in their ecosystem by issuing pre-authorised lists of products to procure or by setting requirements on the integration of interoperability features into external products (e.g. single sign-on systems). Only a handful of countries for which we collected comparative information have made explicit efforts to foster equity and inclusivity, or to ensure that lower levels of government (or schools themselves) procure digital tools and resources that are considered effective (e.g. evidenced positive impact on learning outcomes) and sustainable.

Data collected on countries and jurisdictions’ procurement strategies suggest that most governments tend not to interfere in procurement choices of end purchasers when it comes to digital education tools and resources. Most regulation is procedural rather than substantive. In most countries, only a limited share of the digital education ecosystem is directly provided by the central or federal government, including through public procurement. For the remaining part, local governments, school districts and schools generally make their own procurement decisions in autonomy. Countries have thus adopted flexible procurement approaches. Most countries do not actively guide decentralised procurement choices, let alone impose criteria or restrictions on the digital tools and resources that schools may purchase.

This follows their regular public policies on procurement. While this could be different for education technology products that are sometimes more expensive than most education materials, these policies may relate to the very nature of education technology and the EdTech market. First, technology and educational needs are continuously evolving, making it challenging to set rigid standards that accommodate future innovations. Second, imposing binding criteria on procurement can create high barriers to entry for external EdTech providers, limiting competition and stifling innovation within the market. Smaller or emerging EdTech companies might struggle to meet these criteria, hindering their ability to participate in procurement processes. This limited competition could lead to monopolistic situations among a few established providers, reducing choices for educational institutions and potentially driving costs up. Procuring products for the same reduced set of providers may also lead to vendor lock-in effects, which make the use of alternative tools and resources increasingly difficult.

Depending on the vibrancy of their EdTech industry or the stakes and policy priorities related to certain types of digital tools, public governments may leverage more actively procurement practices to ensure alignment with specific security, interoperability, equity, and effectiveness targets within their digital education ecosystems. More and more governments may establish specific requirements and standards that promote interoperability, ensuring that various digital tools can integrate and exchange data effectively. Other governments may prioritise equity by encouraging the procurement of technologies that bridge the digital divide, providing equal access to educational resources for all students, regardless of their socio-economic background. Lastly, effective procurement practices enable governments to select tools and services that align with their educational goals, ensuring the overall efficiency and success of digital initiatives in the education sector.

In terms of digital infrastructure, countries should aim to align procurement strategies with their governance models and the degree of institutional budgetary autonomy. A centralised strategy may be more suitable when lower levels of government (and schools) have low internal capacity and resources to dedicate to their procurement choices. Centralising procurement practices can reduce the complexity and risks associated with procurement, improve scale economies and cost-efficiency, and ensure systems are interoperable (among other things). More decentralised procurement practices may enable schools (or school districts) that have the necessary capacity to benefit from flexibility in choosing tools and resources aligned with their specific needs. However, they also entail higher sales costs for companies, more difficulties to navigate a variety of procurement procedures and fewer opportunities to scale as demand remains fragmented.

In most countries, the procurement practices follow the usual devolution of responsibilities within the education system, often justified by legal reasons and sometimes by habit. This need not be the case. For some digital tools and resources, countries may consider using a different model than the one they are used to. It depends on many factors, including the objectives that they want to meet: equality of access; quality of the education technology offer; further integrating the system; avoiding the purchase of inefficient tools; etc. This may require an amendment to their legislation or their habits.

Some countries have a dual model of publicly providing a central or jurisdictional tool and allowing the purchase of a similar tool with public funds by sub-governmental authorities or schools. This is an interesting model. While it could be seen as duplicative of efforts and a waste of public resources, it does have the advantage of providing all schools with a free-of-charge “minimal” digital infrastructure. It also has the advantage of providing some choice, building some level of technology competence within public ministries/agencies.

Regardless of the approaches taken, countries should seek to establish good public-private partnerships and spaces for collaboration between schools and the EdTech sector. As of 2024, procurement practices, whether centralised or decentralised, are geared to optimise value-for-money. By providing support and guidance, appointing procurement agencies, establishing standards, guidelines, or binding criteria, countries could use procurement as another policy lever to shape effective digital education ecosystems.


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[14] OECD (2022), Access to computers from home, https://data.oecd.org/ict/access-to-computers-from-home.htm (accessed on  March 2022).

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[13] OECD (2021), Supporting the Digital Transformation of Higher Education in Hungary, Higher Education, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/d30ab43f-en.

[1] OECD (2009), OECD Principles for Integrity in Public Procurement, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264056527-en.

[12] Vincent-Lancrin, S. (2023), “Learning management systems and other digital tools for system and institutional management”, in OECD Digital Education Outlook 2023. Towards an Effective Digital Education Ecosystem, OECD Publishing, https://doi.org/10.1787/c74f03de-en.

[17] Vincent-Lancrin, S. and C. González-Sancho (2023), “Interoperability: unifying and maximising data reuse within digital education ecosystems”, in OECD Digital Education Outlook 2023. Towards an Effective Digital Education Ecosystem, OECD Publishing, https://doi.org/10.1787/c74f03de-en.


← 1. In France: The GAR: https://gar.education.fr/; GAR members: https://gar.education.fr/partenaires-gar/; Procurement guidance: https://eduscol.education.fr/211/acquerir-des-ressources-numeriques-pour-l-ecole

← 2. Sweden: In this case, the ministry imposes criteria with regard to security as per Systemrevisionsbekendtgørelsen, a 2021 legal order on requirements for digital solutions used in education.

← 3. Sweden: Guidance on procurement at the municipal level: https://skr.se/skr/skolakulturfritid/forskolagrundochgymnasieskola/digitaliseringskola/skoldigistod/stodforupphandlingtekniskalosningarochinfrastruktursamtforpedagogiskochteknisksupport.57678.html

← 4. Interoperability and lock-ins effect in Sweden: https://www.edu-digitalinequality.org/2021/04/15/interoperability-in-sweden/

← 5. Kennisnet: https://www.kennisnet.nl/. The cooperative and councils include: SIVON (cooperative of schoolboards for procuring [digital] educational resources, https://sivon.nl/);

← 6. Canada: https://www.alberta.ca/contract-opportunities-with-the-government-of-alberta Latvia: https://www.iub.gov.lv/lv/jaunums/izstradatas-publisko-iepirkumu-vadlinijas-informacijas-un-komunikacijas-tehnologiju-joma

← 7. Belgium Fl.: The other two non-binding criteria relate to security and safe management and to environmental sustainability. Circular letter that recommends to consider students with special needs in schools’ purchase: https://data-onderwijs.vlaanderen.be/edulex/document.aspx?docid=15855#6

← 8. EdTech Evidence toolkit: https://tech.ed.gov/evidence/

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