Blog: Tom Kaye on the Emerging Alignment in the EdTech Sector – A snapshot of London EdTech Week 2019

Between 17 – 24 June 2019 London EdTech Week hosted nearly 6,000 participants at over 25 events, with attendees exploring the current state and future evolution of the global EdTech industry. The exciting event, which included the 7th EdTechXEurope summit, provided attendees with the opportunity to experiment with the latest EdTech tools, listen to experts’ express hopes and fears for the industry, and hear panel discussions relating to the most pressing challenges to EdTech solutions. Innovative start-ups like Giglets, who are launching bold new literacy products, mingled with more mature organizations like Sana Labs, who are using AI to provide personalized assessment tools through partnerships with Learnosity and duolingo. Representatives of investment capital firms explored topical issues with academics and researchers, using data from providers such as HolonIQ to ensure discussions were grounded in up-to-date, accurate, evidence.

The week included the launch of two important new initiatives aiming to better integrate the sector and generate robust evidence to support EdTech upscaling. The European EdTech Network (EETN), designed to connect individuals and institutions across Europe, held its official launch on Wednesday 19 June. The network is a collaboration between University College London’s Institute of Education, Leuven University, IE University and Oulu University. The Swiss EdTech Collider and MindCET are also associate partners. Dr Alison Clark-Wilson, Research Lead at UCL’s Educate, advised that the EETN, whose membership is expected to expand quickly, will attempt ‘to weed the EdTech garden’ and foster stronger integration and collaboration in the EdTech space in Europe. In addition to the EETN, Richard Clarke, DfID Director General Policy, Research and Humanitarian, announced DfID’s investment of 20 million pounds into a new global EdTech Hub. The hub, supported by the World Bank, ODI and BRAC amongst others, hopes to “advance knowledge and practice through research, innovation, and engagement”. Both initiatives will help align and integrate a sector suffering from a lack of cohesion, limited robust research and evidence, and gaps in knowledge and understanding between the various stakeholders operating in the space.

While the EETN and the EdTech Hub will help foster better alignment and research practices around the world, discussions during EdTech week highlighted areas of convergence that are already beginning to emerge amongst the diverse actors. Four key themes emerging during the week were.

1. EdTech has an important role to play in addressing the global learning crisis: Approximately 260 million children around the globe are not enrolled in primary or secondary school. Of those enrolled, hundreds of millions are not achieving basic math and reading competencies. Improvement is currently excruciatingly slow. If the present pace of change is extrapolated it will take almost 100 years for learning outcomes in non-OECD countries to reach the OECD average. EdTech can play an important role in fast-tracking this timeline. EdTech can help teachers and administrators in emergent education systems make core education service delivery processes more efficient and effective, providing more time and money to focus on improving quality.

2. EdTech is most effective when addressing a discrete problem hampering access to, quality of or efficiency in education services: The complex nature of education systems means that EdTech tools are not silver bullets to combat complex challenges. Navigating technical, social, and political challenges to develop tools that align with the expectations of multiple sets of passionate stakeholders is exceptionally difficult. Products positioned to address niche challenges have, to date, led to the most success. Examples of tools that have demonstrated an impact include those focused on specific topics such as providing children in remote areas with access to content, integrating assessment into learning to support child-centred teaching, and classroom observation tools to support better teacher coaching and accountability.

3. There is a difference between investment in and expenditure on EdTech: The EdTech industry is growing exponentially. In 2018 global expenditure on EdTech passed $150 Billion. It is expected to rise to nearly $350 billion by 2025. However, as Moreau notes, the EdTech industry is growing at two different paces. Although new ‘tech’ is rapidly emerging, the ‘ed’ pace (how quickly tech is integrated into systems) lags well behind. EdTech needs to be meaningfully incorporated into systems to generate learning. Adequate investments must be made in the people, processes and structures surrounding EdTech, as well as the tools themselves. Rather than just focusing on the tech, we must reflect on the skills, knowledge and attitudes required by users to realize EdTech’s benefits. Actors must be supported to build their capacity and trust in the technology. Accountability systems should also be in place to ensure late adopters are identified and provided with additional support.

4. EdTech will drive operational change within the education sector but is unlikely to change the industry’s fundamental structure: EdTech is increasingly impacting how teachers, principals, parents, administrators and students engage with education. While tools are making processes more efficient and effective, and are changing the daily activities of actors, change in the structure (e.g. primary and secondary education), particularly in countries with well-established systems, is unlikely. These systems are too embedded and stable to be shifted by EdTech. One area that may be subject to change is post-secondary education, with experts speculating about a shift towards a short form skills- and competence-based approach to post-secondary education, although this is more driven by changes in philosophy and client demand than technology

The EdTech industry is growing rapidly and is filled with talented experts from various backgrounds – entrepreneurs, teachers, academic, etc. While diversity adds innovation and dynamism, it also results in fragmentation, which is compounded by this new sector’s immaturity. London EdTech Week, including the discussions in the areas outlined above and the announcement of the EETN and the EdTech hub, were small steps towards increasing alignment and generating a higher level of collective understanding and intelligence amongst actors in the field.