“Tech gives the quietest student a voice.” – Jerry Blumengarten
Education is increasingly tech-driven. Students who attend schools in the state system do not adapt to technologies and are increasingly disadvantaged against private schools.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made teaching more stressful for many. Technology platforms have been adopted to reduce administrative backlogs, automate workflows, and streamline reporting.
By deploying technology to do the administrative work, teachers have been freed up to do their day job – teaching children.
These platforms can integrate creative, gaming-based methodology to make learning more fun for students.
But this edtech is generally available to only more affluent schools and families. Making use of this technology would help to close the educational disadvantage gap.
This report will analyze edtech companies, types, the effect of COVID-19 accelerating change, how the access gap or digital divide has increased between different income groups, and the advantages and drawbacks of online education, including fatigue, burnouts, and privacy concerns arising from the use of these platforms.
The rise of edtech
Edtech is really not a new concept. It is an industry that has experienced growth, albeit at a snail's pace. Until COVID-19, leveraging technology to improve access to educational resources was a positive policy objective, but there was little urgency to ensure it was achieved.
COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption and deployment of technology, as it has in many other industries, achieving five to 10 years of progress in less than a year.
During the last year, edtech investment in the UK grew by 91%, compared to Europe, where investment has increased by just +8%.
At the beginning of the lockdown, Sutton Trust reported that just 5% of state schools and their students had access to an appropriate device for remote learning, with over half (55%) reporting a lower than normal standard of work returned by pupils, compared to 30% at private schools and 41% at the most affluent state schools.
According to RS Components, 13.6% of state school instructors have never heard of edtech, and 35.6% had never used it at all.
Edtech firms portray their aim in a very positive light. They claim it frees up teachers' time by allowing technology to take over and automating administrative parts of teaching.
It doesn't take a genius to realize there is more to it than that.
Learning is big business.
The main countries leading in edtech innovation are China, India, and the USA, followed by the United Kingdom in Europe.
The UK attracts almost half (41%) of all edtech investment coming into Europe.
India (327), the United Kingdom (245), and China (101) are the nations with the most edtech companies globally, with the United States accounting for more than 40% of all startups with 1,300.
The UK edtech sector has experienced a boom in the last few years, with startups like Kano Computing, Aula, Uniwise, and Bibblio being the best known.
By 2021, the burgeoning UK edtech sector is anticipated to be worth £3.4 billion in market value and £170 million in exports, yet access to educational technology remains unevenly all through the country.
This was particularly evident in Northern Ireland, where three in four teachers reported that the children they teach do not have enough access to educational technology, according to research by RS Components.
Similar findings were made with at least half the teachers in the North East, West Midlands, Greater London, North West, and Wales reporting that the children they teach do not have enough access to educational technology.
The disruptions of the past 12 months will have severely affected some students’ education. The Department of Education reported in August 2020 that an estimated 9% of all UK children lacked access to a laptop, desktop, or tablet at home. The government’s response was to extend its support package of £100 million, delivering 1.26 million devices by March 2021.
A broad support network
Edtech companies evolved from providing supplementary learning support and repetitive tasks to increasingly being the main support of learning due to COVID-19.
Remote learning will not replace face-to-face teaching in the future. However, edtech has shown how a more holistic blended learning strategy combining conventional classroom learning with more flexible cloud-based online assignment submissions and evaluations can benefit teachers and students.
Edtech companies can be categorized as:
1) Online tutoring services
Some of these businesses assist students with homework, while others prepare students for examinations and offer instruction.
2) Apps and aids for education
Tools and services that assist children of all ages and their families in learning at home, both for assignments and fun, are typically integrated with school districts and their systems.
3) Repository of educational data
Startups like Bibblio act as a digital repository of all textbooks, coursebooks at all grade levels with paid access.
4) Voluntary certification course providers
These companies provide tailor-made learning experiences not just for students but for all age groups, including parents themselves, to update to support their kids’ learning to people who have lost jobs & want to upskill. Coursera and LinkedIn learning are most prominent in this sector.
Know your customer
Edtech can integrate the current instruction methods at schools to provide various key performance indicators (KPIs) on student performance.
This can allow the learning journey to fine-tune assessment methods and drastically improve the delivery of instruction.
The more we know about someone – in this case, the student – the timelier interventions and better decisions can be taken about their progress. Big data and analytics is coming to education.
Lessons have changed considerably. Teachers today can use interactive smart board screens instead of chalkboards; children use tablets to complete tests on their homework and tap colorful smartphone apps to solve maths challenges at home.
Teachers can even use special social sharing apps to keep parents in the loop about their children’s achievements throughout the day.
With the easier collection of assessment data, the curriculum can also be modified for special assistance for struggling students. It also facilitates better group learning.
Increasingly, the edtech companies have realized their main target is children and their parents, who are expected to help with their children’s learning. They are now required to improve their own knowledge to help their children in completing assessments and modules.
This has dramatically increased parental participation.
The edtech companies have access to data on class performance and curriculum relevance. Increasingly, they can modify the curriculum to meet the school's needs and provide real-time feedback on what works best. Schools can regularly update their curriculum.
One fascinating innovation is the use of assessment and coursework interaction data to help to identify the state of students' mental health.
Another is the use of platforms like Coursera to assist people in upskilling and becoming qualified to meet the needs of new jobs at a time when the unemployment rate fell to 4.9% in the three months to February, according to The Office for National Statistics. This represents about 1.7 million people, a modest improvement from 5% in the three months to January.
Who will teach the teachers?
Teaching has long been recognized as a stressful job, and reports suggest that UK teachers work more than a day of unpaid overtime each week.
They have been pushed to switch to using edtech software in a major way when most lack familiarity. The lack of training availability is of major concern among teachers, with three in five and over half of them believing they don't have enough resources to train technology.
It is often the case that edtech is implemented without enough support from teachers, not necessarily understanding how to use the tools at their disposal, let alone adopt them to their courses or programs.
There have been burnout, poor mental health, and online fatigue on both ends of teachers and students.
While science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and other subjects can be taught through online channels, the lack of the options to impart vital social, interpersonal, and public skills for personal development is frightening.
Who will watch the watchers?
It is perhaps impossible for children to go to school and avoid interacting with technology, so integral has it become to all our lives. Data from cameras, the logging of bathroom trips, assessments, etc., are recorded at a central repository owned, managed, and repurposed /harvested by a third party. There are concerns about the control a third party has over the data.
From a business perspective, the education sector is a fertile ground for making money. Business decisions are driven by what makes business sense, not necessarily the improvement of end-users ' learning outcomes or well-being – be that of the children or the teachers.
Edtech companies thrive on digital data. This increasingly influences decision-making about how the curriculum is designed and who designs it.
Data extract precise information about individuals and puts it in the hands of all those who administer data systems, resulting in new structural power.
There is a danger that students are no longer seen as human beings but as data points. Their products allow for every process, place, and person in schools to be mapped and known, removing any semblance of privacy.
COVID-19 has proven that digital transformation within education is unavoidable and has brought edtech from the sidelines to the center of educational practice.
The United Kingdom always had a great history of innovation, and there is great potential to influence the educational system profoundly.
The edtech industry is a partner that, subject to the correct checks and balances, could find its place in society by revolutionizing the way we teach future generations.