With Brexit Looming, Is There a Place for the UK in Global Edtech?

With the Brexit limbo set to linger for a few months yet, uncertainty looks likely to continue affecting the U.K.’s commercial relationships. Foreign direct investment in the country has fallen by nearly 20% in the last three years, and the same period has seen British companies less likely to enter into foreign trade than before.

Despite a difficult short-term picture, though, there is some hope that the U.K. can continue to thrive in areas such as education—a sector that can tap into the country’s strong heritage and international reputation. To be one of the leading players in a $250 billion global industry would be a huge win. But can the country make the necessary step up?

The edtech sector certainly shows promise. It is one of the U.K.’s fastest-growing industries, with a 22% revenue growth year-over-year. It accounts for 4% of all U.K. technology companies, and is projected to be worth £3.4 billion by 2021. Roughly a quarter of Europe’s edtech companies are based in the U.K., attracting 35% of European edtech startup investment. London is a launch pad for edtech startups and has a growing reputation as a leading hub where many foreign nationals choose to establish their edtech companies.

Nonetheless, from a global perspective, the U.K. and Europe as a whole are presently dwarfed by bigger players. More than 3,000 edtech companies are currently active across Europe, but they receive just 6% of global edtech venture capital. On the other hand, just China and India together represent more than 70%. Moreover, UK edtech is currently only generating around £170 million in exports—much smaller than one would expect for a service-centric economy that ranks as the world’s fifth-largest.

However, changes are underway – both from government and within the sector itself – that aim to secure London’s future as a global edtech powerhouse. While the UK is abundant in the technical and creative skills required to create world-class edtech products, it has until recently lacked the ecosystem necessary for products to achieve exposure and make the transition to global markets. But this is beginning to change.

One of the most difficult issues in marketing—and buying—edtech is demonstrating that a product will bring tangible, measurable benefits. Creating such evidence requires both skill in empirical research techniques and, crucially, access to pupils in order to measure impact. To solve this problem, the government has recently announced the creation of a series of school “testbeds” that will work with startups to develop an evidence base for the best innovations.

Alongside this, other institutions are beginning to work with edtech businesses to help them understand how to use research to create solid evidence for the suitability of their product. A prime example is University College London’s EDUCATE initiative, which brings together edtech entrepreneurs, academics and educators in a structured research mentoring program.

The second critical element in supporting this industry is an ecosystem that connects new companies with funders, potential customers, experts—and each other. An increasing number of organizations are aiming to nurture London’s many fledgling startups and create these links. Established events such as the BESA’s Bett show are now working in tandem with new, innovative conferences such as Learnit and peer networks such as the Edtech Exchange. Investment groups like the Nasdaq-listed EdTechX has launched the EdtechX Europe conference and Edtech Week (a series of 40-plus events) in London, as well as hosting other events across Europe, Asia and Africa.

At the government level, the U.K.’s Department for International Development is looking at targeting learning outcomes, supported by edtech, through the development of an EdTech Research and Innovation Hub that focuses on the developing world. And at the same time, Nesta supports edtech impact investment and Emerge Education is building a funding network to accelerate promising edtech projects.

These emerging networks will be hugely important in creating opportunities for U.K. edtech in the coming years. Although Chinese and US startups attract more attention, the fact that they tend to focus on their own large domestic markets means there is a huge opportunity for European and U.K. companies to step in and scale internationally at an earlier stage.

Nonetheless, despite these supports, U.K. education entrepreneurs must be conscious of the future risks to their place in the global tech ecosystem. Many London-registered startups rely heavily on development operations based in other European countries, as well as a good deal of funding from European businesses. There is strong competition from hubs in Berlin, Stockholm and Paris, so it will be important to continue nurturing the country’s overseas links, regardless of what version of Brexit the UK arrives at. However, if London can continue to strengthen its reputation as an international edtech hub, there’s no reason it can’t be a global leader in creating positive educational impact.

Vikas Pota is group chief executive of Tmrw Digital

This article appeared on EdSurge on 19th May 2019

To educate the world, we must amplify the inspirational voices in our own communities

Across the globe and in all walks of life, committed individuals are striving to make a difference. They will be vital, if we are to rise to the challenges of ending illiteracy and bringing quality teaching to everyone

There have been sweeping social changes in my adult lifetime, from how easy it is to travel to how easy it is to communicate. Many of us have had the experience of explaining to a baffled teenager how, not so many years ago, we used to communicate via landlines, and had to make plans that couldn’t be altered at the last minute with an instant message.

But the most far-reaching change is about much more than convenience. It has transformed whose voice gets heard in society. In decades past, the levers of change belonged almost exclusively to the elites. Today, change is also welling up from new and unexpected sources.

Previously marginalised groups – from farmers in the developing world living with the impact of climate change to girls fighting for the right to an education – have seen their voices are amplified by technology. It is their posts, tweets and clips, shared by the billions of people using social media, that now define how our society understands itself. This is transformative because it enables ordinary people to have a huge impact, potentially giving power to everyone, everywhere.

In all walks of life, people are also waking up to the possibility that with insight, determination and a desire to help others, they can make a real difference. People from outside the political sphere, such as like the young survivors of the 2018 Parkland school massacre in Florida, who launched the #NeverAgain campaign to change US gun laws, have led the way in showing how debates that seemed calcified and immovable for decades can be cracked wide open. This campaign led to a 17-minute school walkout across the US – one minute for every life lost in Parkland – and the two-million-strong US-wide March for Our Lives.

While the opportunities for people from beyond the traditional spheres of political discourse to effect real change are welcome, those wanting to harness this new digital ecosystem still need two things: the ability to thoroughly understand the world around them, and the ability to communicate their knowledge so that people will listen. Unfortunately, for every person that can take advantage of social media’s potential reach, there are many more that cannot – especially the millions around the world that have no access to education.

If we are to turn this situation around, we must look not just to our leaders but to our neighbours

It is a tragedy that in 2019 nearly 263 million young people worldwide are out of school. Of the 650m primary-school-age children that are in education, 250m are not learning the basics.

Generation after generation of politicians have, for all their well-publicised efforts, failed to tackle a deepening crisis in global education. The Millennium Development Goals, modest as they were, were missed. And despite all the high hopes of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), progress in meeting them has stalled.

Between 2011 and 2016, the number of primary-school-age children not in education rose from 57 million to 61 million. It will take until the year 2072 at the current rate of progress to meet the SDG of eradicating youth illiteracy and providing quality education for all. In fact, to achieve this goal by 2030, we would need to recruit 69m more teachers globally – a tall order indeed.

We cannot afford to wait for politicians to act: the time is too short; the crisis too severe. If we are to turn this around, we must look not just to our leaders but to our neighbours, to those inspirational individuals in our communities all around the world who are striving every day to make change across all walks of life. We in the education community must learn from these people.

The Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) aims to bring together today’s visionaries and influencers with leaders and policymakers from the global educational community. By sharing the stories of grassroots activists, philanthropists, campaigners and tech developers, we can start a debate about how to meet challenges on a global scale. In 2018, we heard from fascinating individuals such as the YouTube educator Physics Girl, whose experiments on video make science popular and accessible.

This year, GESF 2019, which will be held in Dubai later this month, aims to take this conversation a step further and explore the interactions between technology, education and the problems of tomorrow. We will hear from Kennedy Odede, the social entrepreneur who founded Shining Hope for Communities to fight urban poverty and gender inequality in Nairobi’s slums. And we are honoured to have with us Bana Alabed, the nine-year-old Syrian girl who has documented the siege of Aleppo – with its airstrikes, hunger, danger and displacement – for the whole world to see. Bana’s Twitter posts play a huge role in educating people about the reality of war thousands of miles away. Her calls for peace illustrate what social media can achieve at its best. How do people like Bana see the world in which they are growing up? How would they educate the world?

And, of course, we must listen to the greatest changemakers of all – those whose imprint on the future will be through the children they teach. Teachers will once again be centre-stage in our forum, and will draw in the eyes of the world on the evening we announce the winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2019, which is awarded under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

By listening to and reflecting on the insights of these changemakers, we will be a step closer to solving the problems of tomorrow’s generation – and changing the lives of millions for the better.

Vikas Pota is chairman of the Varkey Foundation

This article appeared in The National newspaper on 17th March 2019

Technology can help give children refugees the education they deserve

As we move into the new year, the U.N. Refugee Agency has put out a timely reminder that figures for forcibly displaced people across the world have reached a record 68.5 million, with an average of one person displaced every two seconds in 2017. For the young people among them, this typically means losing access to a quality education.

We can no longer wait patiently for technology to one day play a role in tackling this crisis. The time for technology to support educating our most vulnerable is now. Initiatives in this hitherto unexamined corner of the education space are detailed in the extensive new UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report 2019.

Of course, it would be ideal for every refugee child to be in a classroom, getting the one-to-one support and education they need from a caring teacher. That interaction, with all the empathy and ability required to see a child’s weaknesses and turn them into strengths, is always best delivered by human educators.

But we don’t have a good record on that front. According to UNESCO, 264 million children do not have access to schooling, while at least 600 million more are “in school but not learning.”

These children are not acquiring even basic skills in math and reading, which the World Bank calls a “learning crisis.” In order to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of quality education for all by 2030, we will need to recruit 69 million teachers, a target many see as simply unachievable, bearing in mind the tremendous pressures on funding being felt by various governments and economies worldwide.

Even in the United Kingdom, the world’s fifth biggest economy, the numbers of teachers are falling, leading to a sense of crisis. If the relatively prosperous U.K. is struggling in this regard, what hope for low-income countries and what hope for refugee children?

The UNESCO report also makes the stark point that teacher recruitment and management policies are reacting too slowly to this increasing need. It calculates that Germany needs an additional 42,000 teachers and educators, Turkey needs 80,000 teachers, and Uganda needs 7,000 primary teachers to teach all current refugees.

We are now at the edge of a perfect storm as according to UNHCR, barely half of refugee needs are being met, leading to worsening hardship and risks. Based on contributions to date, it expects funding for 2018 to meet just 55 percent of the $8.2 billion that are needed, compared to 56.6 percent in 2017 and 58 percent in 2016.

With donor funding falling ever further behind as the number of forcibly displaced worldwide grows, because recruiting enough teachers takes time and even more money, because technology solutions are available today, we should be rolling education technology out now.

Governments may struggle to fund this alone, but big business can play a vital role, as can civil society, NGOs, and the voluntary sector. Together, they can roll out education technology to where it can change lives.  Get development’s most important headlines in your inbox every day.

UNESCO is right that technology can frequently help with the education of displaced people, particularly in instances where the scale of that displacement overwhelms education systems. Its scalability, speed, and portability can help compensate for lack of standard education resources. The report acknowledges the important part teachers play in the equation and makes the valuable point that most of these tech programs, in one way or another, support teacher professional development.

The UNESCO report cites examples of where tech is already working: a UNESCO teacher education project in Nigeria in association with Nokia; UNHCR and Vodafone’s Instant Network Schools program reaching more than 40,000 students and 600 teachers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Sudan, and the United Republic of Tanzania; NGO Libraries Without Borders and UNHCR’s Ideas Box package, which has been shown to have a positive impact in two Burundi camps hosting Congolese refugees.

There are other success stories I could point to where technology is proving educationally transformative in the developing world, such as Tusome — “let’s read”, in Kiswahili — which is working well in Kenya thanks to being taken up by the government and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development with $74 million over five years. It is reaching 3.4 million children in 23,000 government primary schools and 1,500 private schools. The costs are low — about $4 per child per year — and reading abilities are rising as a result.

Clearly, there are many different digital tools that can be used to boost education to meet a variety of needs all over the world, and much of it is low-cost. We have a stark choice to make: Give refugee children the education they deserve now or store up problems for the future — a whole generation of frustrated, uneducated young people, unable to find work.

The holidays gave us all — from concerned citizens to global leaders — a chance to step out of the frenetic routine to reflect on those with the greatest need and consider how we can create a better world.

On the world’s list of New Year’s resolutions, there is one that will pay dividends for generations to come. We must all work together to put transformative education technology in the hands of refugee children. They deserve, for once, to be at the front of the queue.

Vikas Pota is group chief executive of Tmrw Digital

This article appeared on Devex on 24th January 2019

Tackling the epidemic of cyberbullying needs a coordinated response

This week, the Anti-Bullying Alliance is running 2018’s Anti-Bullying Week – a timely reminder that, despite our best efforts, bullying remains a serious problem for many schools, children and parents. Bullying is a major factor behind the growing mental health crisis in schools – one in three 13-15 year olds are suffering from a mental health problem according to a recent survey by charity Action for Children. It’s also linked to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts in young people, as well as a higher risk of substance abuse and alcohol problems in later life.

Although government research has found that in-person bullying within schools has lessened over the last decade overall – most likely thanks to increasing awareness of the seriousness of bullying and a no-tolerance policy in schools – bullying is increasingly migrating to online channels, primarily through the social media platforms that have become a central part of young people’s lives. The figures are alarming. In the UK, incidents of cyberbullying have grown 37% year-on-year according to a report from internet safety company Smoothwall, and one recent study by international anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found that 17% of British children have been victims. Elsewhere in the world, the picture is very similar, with a new Pew Research Center survey finding that 59% of U.S. teens have personally experienced at least one of six types of abusive online behaviours. The US-based Cyberbullying Research Center furthermore says that the number experiencing cyberbullying has doubled since 2007.

While in-person bullying can often be effectively tackled within school premises and primarily involves students, schools and parents, cyberbullying is more pervasive and comes in more forms. Victims can be targeted anywhere, at any time, and can feel like there’s no escape from the abuse. Cyberbullying therefore presents a different challenge to in-person bullying – one that requires coordination from stakeholders across not only education, but also wider society as a whole. Tech giants such Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – whose platforms play host to the majority of cyberbullying – are now central figures in the debate. Just as UK Education Secretary Damian Hinds recently called on large tech companies to do more to drive a technological revolution in education, so to do they need to take more responsibility for the products that they produce for young people and help protect their users.

That’s not to say they are ignoring the problem. Facebook operates a bullying support hub where users can block people and report content that is then taken down if it violates Facebook’s Community Standards by intentionally degrading or shaming. Both Facebook and Instagram also use artificial intelligence to identify abusive language, and Facebook has also committed to funding anti-bullying training in schools. Nevertheless, the Ditch the Label survey found that 70% of teenagers questioned thought that social media companies do too little to prevent bullying, and both non-profits such as the NSPCC, teachers, parents, even the UK government, believe they can do more.

The issue of cyberbullying isn’t so far removed from the complex debates currently raging around hate speech and free speech, trolling and fake news on the social media sites we use. For example, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia recently introduced an anti-cyberbullying bill after a high-profile teenage suicide, but the law was later removed by the courts for violating free speech, demonstrating the difficulty in using legislation to curb the problem. We’re still grappling with our relationship to the new hyper-connected communication media available to us, and what it means to use these responsibly. This ability to use technology and media in safe, responsible and effective ways – often termed digital citizenship – is a vital competency for the 21st century, though we’re still some way from seeing the topic introduced into national curricula around the world. So far, non-profits are taking up the task. Common Sense Education, for example, offers a free K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum that has cyberbullying as one of six core curriculum topics, with over 500,000 teachers now using this resource worldwide. Meanwhile, The DQ Institute, an international think tank that provides solutions and policy recommendations to help nations build ethical digital ecosystems, have created a Digital Intelligence Quotient, or DQ number. Derived from eight core digital citizenship competencies – digital safety and cyberbullying management being one of them – the DQ number aims to set an international standard of digital citizenship, and I believe this level of global integration and awareness is needed if cyberbullying is to be tackled effectively.

Both teachers and parents share the same concerns about online safety. This year, a back-to-school campaign launched by UK non-profit Internet Matters revealed that 73% of Year 7 parents were anxious about their child’s ability to manage online relationships, and 80% were concerned about cyberbullying. But schools and teachers often feel ill-equipped to deal with the problem: the Smoothwall study found that 62% of teachers do not believe they are fully supported to tackle the issue, and 84% believe the government should be doing more to help train them. Tech companies once again shouldered much of the blame; 77% of teachers do not believe that they are doing enough to protect young people.

Clearly, there’s no easy answer to the growing problem of cyberbullying, the responsibility for tackling the problem falls on many shoulders. Certainly, banning social media or certain apps doesn’t work – that would be like trying to put the genie back into the bottle. Besides, social media and the internet offer extraordinary opportunities that young people should feel confident to be able to use at any time without the threat of abuse. Instead, we need a coordinated response from those across education, government and industry. Tech companies should be looking to collectively commit to tackling the problem, agree on industry standards of what constitutes abusive content, as well as provide a single source of information for users on how to address it. We need to advance the digital citizenship agenda so that both adults and children learn the digital skills necessary to navigate internet safely. As part of this,
the government must listen to schools and teachers who call for more training and resources on how to teach students to be more responsible digital citizens, as well as consider introducing more online safety related material into the curriculum.

But for any measures to be effective, different stakeholders mustn’t just point fingers of blame but rather approach the problem of cyberbullying from the same angle. Parents, educators, governments, tech companies, and of course students themselves must reach a common understanding. It’s a challenging project, and the only way forward is to foster communication and cooperation between groups who may not ordinarily find themselves talking to each other. At the Tmrw Institute – a new organisation from Tmrw Digital that curates conversations between the varied stakeholders in the EdTech industry – we have this cooperative outlook at our core. Maybe the growing problem of cyberbullying is where this approach will yield the greatest results.

Vikas Pota is group chief executive of Tmrw Digital

This article appeared on The Educator UK on 21st November 2018

It’s cyberbullying, not fake news, that social media giants should fear the most

After hearing the range of discussion sparked by Anti-Bullying Week last week, I was particularly struck by the Duke of Cambridge’s passionate speech at the BBC Broadcasting House in London where he called on tech giants such as Facebook and Google to do more to tackle the growing problem of cyberbullying. He raises an important point: no-one should duck their responsibilities on this issue.

One thing is certain, we need solutions urgently. Studies show bullying is a major risk factor for serious and long-term mental health problems in children that can last into adulthood, and although in-person bullying has lessened over the last decade, cyberbullying is on the rise. The figures are alarming. In the UK, incidents of cyberbullying have grown 37% year-on-year according to a report from internet safety company Smoothwall, and one recent study by international anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found that 17% of British children have been victims. Elsewhere in the world, the picture is very similar. For example, a new Pew Research Center survey found that 59% of U.S. teens have personally experienced at least one of six types of abusive online behaviours.

While in-person bullying can often be effectively tackled within school premises, cyberbullying is more pervasive – victims can be targeted anywhere, at any time, and can feel like there’s no escape from the abuse. Cyberbullying, therefore, presents a different challenge that involves stakeholders across not only education, but wider society as well, not least tech giants and social media companies. Are they doing enough to help? Most agree with the Duke of Cambridge’s view. In the Ditch the Label survey, 70% of teenagers thought that social media companies do too little to prevent bullying, and, according to the Smoothwall report, 77% of teachers thought the same. Just as UK Education Secretary Damian Hinds recently called on large tech companies to do more to drive a technological revolution in education, so to do they need to take more responsibility for the products that they produce for young people.

Photo of a teenager holding a phone looking sadly out of a window

But the answer isn’t so clear-cut. The problem of cyberbullying isn’t so far removed from the complex debates currently raging around hate speech and free speech, trolling and fake news that take place on the social media sites we use. For example, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia recently introduced an anti-cyberbullying bill after a high-profile teenage suicide, but the law was later removed by the courts for violating free speech, demonstrating the difficulty in using legislation to curb the problem. We’re still grappling with our relationship to the new hyper-connected communication media available to us, and what it means to use these responsibly.

This ability to use technology and media in safe, responsible and effective ways – often termed digital citizenship – is a vital competency for the 21st century, though we’re still some way from seeing the topic introduced into national curricula. So far, non-profits are taking up the task. Common Sense Education, for example, offers a free K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum that has cyberbullying as one of six core curriculum topics, with over 500,000 teachers now using this resource worldwide. Meanwhile, The DQ Institute, an international think tank that provides solutions and policy recommendations to help nations build ethical digital ecosystems, have created a Digital Intelligence Quotient, or DQ number. Derived from eight core digital citizenship competencies – digital safety and cyberbullying management one of them – the DQ number aims to set an international standard of digital citizenship, and I believe this level of global integration and awareness is needed if cyberbullying is to be tackled effectively.

Both teachers and parents share the same concerns about online safety. This year, a back-to-school campaign launched by UK non-profit Internet Matters revealed that 73% of Year 7 parents were anxious about their child’s ability to manage online relationships, and 80% were concerned about cyberbullying. But schools and teachers often feel ill-equipped to deal with the problem: the Smoothwall study found that 62% of teachers do not believe they are fully supported to tackle the issue, and 84% believe the government should be doing more to help train them.

Photo of a young person's hands holding a phone

Clearly, there’s no easy answer to the growing problem of cyberbullying, the responsibility falls on many shoulders. Certainly, banning social media or certain apps doesn’t work – that would be like trying to put the genie back into the bottle. Instead, we need a coordinated response from those across education, government and industry. Tech companies should be looking to collectively commit to tackling the problem and agree on industry standards of what constitutes abusive content. We need to advance the digital citizenship agenda so that both adults and children learn the digital skills necessary to navigate internet safely. And, as part of this, the government must listen to schools and teachers who call for more training and resources on how to teach students to be more responsible digital citizens, as well as consider introducing more online safety-related material into the curriculum.

But for any measures to be effective, different stakeholders mustn’t just point fingers of blame at each other but rather approach the problem of cyberbullying from the same angle. Parents, educators, governments, tech companies, and of course students themselves must reach a common understanding. It’s a challenging project, and the only way forward is to foster communication and cooperation between groups who may not ordinarily find themselves talking to each other. Most importantly, this could scar another generation of children who are on the cusp of owning their first smartphone. But this is a defining moment for social media companies too. The daily attacks from fake news to foreign interference in elections could become a genuine existential threat. But it is cyberbullying, a threat every parent understands, that could evaporate the fragile consent the public lend to social media companies.

Vikas Pota is group chief executive of Tmrw Digital

This article appeared on Innovate My School on 23rd November 2018

A continental shift in education technology?

While the sector is currently dominated by the US and China, Europe can be the powerhouse helping edtech come of age, says Tmrw Digital’s Vikas Pota

Last month I attended a rooftop event in London hosted by Edspace.io, where a cross-section of European edtech startups and VCs gathered to discuss the latest innovations in education. The talent, energy and enthusiasm of those in attendance was palpable – a sign of the growing confidence within Europe’s edtech sector, a market holding immense potential for companies looking to make a global impact.

Indeed, Europe is the second largest worldwide market when it comes to education spending, totalling over €700bn each year for its 110 million students. The pedigree of its countries’ education systems is world class, with relative minnows such as Estonia, Ireland and Finland consistently riding high in the OECD’s PISA rankings.

Yet, despite 3,000 edtech companies currently active across the continent, they receive just 8% of worldwide investment in the sector. Instead, the US and China dominate, with more than 58% of all edtech funding in 2017 going to US companies and 19% to China. It’s no surprise, then, that the members of edtech’s unicorn club – those with valuations worth more than $1 billion – are either Chinese (such as Hujiang or iTutorGroup) or American (such as Coursera or Udemy). India’s Byju’s is the sole exception.

Can Europe add a name to this list and stand alongside its other tech titans such as Sweden’s Spotify or Germany’s Zalando? Sceptics will argue that lack of access to funding and a fragmented market of 44 countries – many with complex school procurement processes – will hold it back. I take a more positive view. For example, from 2014 to 2017, investment in European edtech start-ups more than tripled in size, from €140mn to €490mn. Yet transactions per year have remained broadly consistent, meaning that investors are devoting more significant sums, in more mature projects. While €490mn represents but a third of the venture funding invested in US edtech last year, just four years ago it was a tenth. Clearly, the historical reluctance of investors to back European edtech companies is abating.

UK stands tall

Attracting 35% of this €490mn figure, the UK stands tall as the main player on the European edtech stage. Of course, Brexit uncertainty poses challenges – particularly to the workforce in the UK tech industry – yet the country has some natural advantages. At the top level, the government is engaged, establishing a national computing curriculum and recently calling on tech companies to help revolutionise the education sector, identifying five key areas of focus. The UK is also home to a host of world-class universities and publishers that can act as key local partners and collaborators for entrepreneurs. And, with its influential Tech City community, London is unparalleled in Europe as a launch pad for edtech start-ups, ranking as a global top five edtech hub.

Other European cities are also rapidly establishing themselves. Paris, for example, is developing into one of the most dynamic edtech ecosystems in Europe. The edtech Observatory, which comprehensively lists French edtech players and researches major trends in the industry, was recently established in the city, as was the EdTech France association. Two venture capital funds dedicated exclusively to edtech investment – Brighteye Ventures and EduCapital – were also recently launched in Paris, closing almost €100mn between them.

Take Helsinki, too. Finland’s education system has created a world-class “’ade in Finland’ brand, with Finnish edtech companies developing best-in-class products that are highly regarded for their quality and innovation, particularly in gamification. Importantly, edtech start-ups in the city have access to one of Europe’s leading edtech start-up accelerators, xEdu. While the US leads the field with more than a dozen such structures dedicated to edtech, Emerge in the UK and LearnSpace in France are examples showing Europe is heading in the right direction.

Europe’s natural advantage

Assuming a European startup achieves success at home, scaling up to become a unicorn requires international expansion. This is where European edtech companies have a natural advantage: its diversity and deep historical links to the rest of the world give it a uniquely international outlook. While Chinese and US startups understandably tend to focus on their large domestic markets before taking products overseas, European companies have an incentive to capture the considerable opportunities overseas.

There are huge markets in the developing world with young, growing populations clamouring for edtech – India, for example, has 300 million children aged 6 to 17. This is where European companies can step in.

A European edtech company that has successfully implemented its product or service across European countries, with different barriers to entry, has proven staying power; if you make it in Europe, the door to the rest of the world swings open. The worldwide popularity of European curricula – such as the International Baccalaureate and iGCSE – further serves to help internationalise European edtech startups. So, too, the similarities of foreign countries’ educational systems to those in Europe, with the UK and Commonwealth a prime example.

Let us not forget the cultural richness and variety of lifestyles on offer in Europe’s major tech hubs, from the uber-cool Berlin startup scene to the more relaxed Barcelona. The continent is a melting pot of different cultures, languages, and ideas like no other, where budding entrepreneurs from all over the world flock to make their big break. Indeed, with President Trump’s H1-B visa program crackdown, and with many European countries creating startup visa programs making it easier to hire foreign talent, Europe is ideally positioned to continue attracting the brightest tech talent.

Over the longer term, if Europe can play to its natural strengths, it could nurture the next generation of start-ups and help edtech truly come of age.

Vikas Pota is group chief executive of Tmrw Digital

This article appeared on the Education Technology website on 29th October 2018

The Rise of the “Teacher-preneur”

Why educator involvement in edtech isn’t merely a nice idea.

Last week we held our inaugural event in London, where two inspirational edtech entrepreneurs spoke about how they made the leap into starting their own businesses, what drove them to take on the challenge, and how they achieved remarkable results in such short spaces of time. They had one thing in common: both used to be teachers.

The growing trend of the “teacherpreneur” is timely, and a potential solution to the impasse afflicting educational technology – edtech – in its current state. Despite all the hype, it’s fair to say that edtech isn’t living up to its potential.

Addressing the Facts

In the developing world, governments and NGOs have had little impact so far in addressing the shocking fact that over 260 million children and young people are not in school, and that of the 650 million primary school-age children that are, 250 million are not learning the basics.

Meanwhile, across the developed world, many edtech products are not yet making the educational impact many had hoped for. For instance, in 2015, an OECD report found that there was no noticeable improvement in PISA results for reading, mathematics or science in countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education. And in the US, only 33 per cent of parents surveyed by the Learning Assembly agreed that their child’s school did an “excellent” job of using technology to tailor instruction. The sector is not yet producing the sort of innovation that will bring about macro-level changes in how education is delivered across the globe to those with fewer resources.

A Key Ingredient

A key ingredient that could make a huge difference to this apparent lack of progress is the involvement of teachers in edtech development – educators are all too often left out of the picture by the current norms of the sector. In all the conferences I have attended around the world, I’m struck by the absence of teachers at edtech roundtables, discussions, and panels – which usually revolve around policymakers, CEOs, tech entrepreneurs and investors. It’s a shame, since the conversations I have with teachers who are on the front line, in my experience, are always the most productive.

Teacher involvement is crucial, in part because one of the main reasons that many edtech initiatives fail is a lack of grounding in the real experience of students and teachers. Designers and developers often miss failings that would be obvious to those on the front line. By contrast, teachers know first-hand what students need, and what they themselves need as educators – a crucial element in the design process. They also understand the distinction between a superficial innovation and one that will actually help pupils, and they know how the education sector works from the inside.

Edtech’s Next Paradigm Shift

Now, trailblazing teachers are taking innovation into their own hands, bringing the knowledge and insight gleaned in the classroom to the world of edtech. This is a profoundly positive step, and there are good reasons to think that the next paradigm shift in edtech will come from teachers who combine their classroom practice with edtech development.

With such a large role to play, people are looking for teachers to enter this debate, and it was therefore heartening, but also no surprise, that last week’s event was oversubscribed, where we listened to Colin Hegarty and Emma Rogers tell their stories (pictured above; Colin middle, and Emma, left).

In 2011, while working as a maths teacher in London, Colin started making YouTube videos explaining important maths concepts for home study and revision, which eventually attracted millions of views from around the world and grew into Hegarty Maths – an online platform that teaches, assesses and tracks everything a child needs to learn in maths from upper primary to IGCSE level. Colin, a Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize Finalist, emphasized at the event how important it is for students to not only receive quality instruction, but for teachers to be supported in helping their students develop metacognitive awareness of how they study – which is why Hegarty Maths offers in-depth student tracking and analytics for teachers to use.

Similarly, Emma Rogers was a school Head of Department and a children’s writer and illustrator before founding Little Bridge, which helps children learn key English skills through its immersive digital world containing hundreds of carefully designed activities, stories and characters. Emma noted that too many products solve a problem that students and teachers don’t really have; her advice to attendees was to find an actual, specific problem – and then solve it.

Emma and Colin’s backgrounds were instrumental in how they developed their products, as is the case for Adam Still, a Teach First alumnus who recently founded Ripple Education, a digital lesson-planning tool designed squarely with teachers in mind. Adam observed that lesson planning – crucial for developing high-quality lessons and driving positive student outcomes – is currently a major time sink for teachers who tend to do it by themselves. Ripple’s easy-to-use and comprehensive platform aims to address this problem, freeing up precious time for teachers – who spend over 50% of their time outside the classroom – to let them do what they do best: teach.

A First Step

To encourage and support this growing trend of teachers using their expertise to build the next generation of edtech products, I will be guiding the new Tmrw Institute to help bring the worlds of education and technology together.

Founded by Sunny Varkey, the Institute will aim to increase teacher involvement in edtech, explore the edtech innovations that make the most difference, and tackle the problem of global education capacity using the best ideas from the edtech world.

Last week’s event was just the first step of our journey – hopefully it inspired and informed potential entrepreneurs and helped place teachers at the heart of edtech.

Vikas Pota is group chief executive of Tmrw Digital.

This article appeared on EdTech Digest on 1st October 2018