As the global pandemic was taking grip on our lives in February, a group of friends started wondering what this may mean for public services the world over. It wasn’t long after that entire public education systems started shutting down and this is when, we, as friends, decided to come together to consider the many aspects connected to school closures, which not only included how home-schooling and technology works, but, importantly, also about the widening of inequity.
These Zoom calls provided a safe space for discussion and exploration, and the honesty that system leaders brought to these meetings resulted in ideas being share devoid of politics or ideology, which itself felt like a watershed moment.
They spoke about issues such as school feeding programmes and what works, they talked about well-being and what’s being put in place for children, the discussed how to open schools up, again. They even explored whether this crisis presented opportunities for wider reforms.
I also convened a call with teachers, where I heard stories from the front-line that angered me. On that particular meeting, and in the few days after, I’d been reflecting on what I heard and decided that the concern wasn’t just about the immediate circumstances we face, but also about what the future holds for us. In common parlance, teachers were asking what the so called ‘new normal’ means for them.
Given I used to host the Global Education & Skills Forum, some of my teacher friends encouraged me to convene a virtual conference for teachers that attempted to answer that question. Our initial instinct was to bring just our friends together for this conversation, but given that technology now allows us to reach all corners of the world, I decided that we’d try to make this a global conversation. Why not?
Covid-19 has, at least in my opinion, for the first time, resulted in large swathes of the world – whether you are in the global south or in a western industrialised country, to a common experience. What that means, and I heard it for myself in several calls I had convened, is that a learning from one part of the world could be applied to another context.
In the absence of system leaders having any precedents to fall back on, I felt that providing teachers a platform and voice could be an incredibly powerful thing to do. Why shouldn’t teachers set the precedent, after all they’re at the front-line and dealing on a daily basis with such difficult issues! Let them set the pace.
That’s how T4 was born. We decided to focus on these four areas (hence the name): teacher well-being, teacher collaboration, teacher leadership and teacher technology as these were the areas that teachers were most often mentioning to me. Since launching the conference just two weeks ago, I am astounded with the level of interest this event has generated.
I’m really looking forward to hosting the event next week. I hope you’ve registered. I’d also be very grateful if you could take this poll as it’ll inform my remarks at the event.
Imagine if all the video Zoom conferences concerning education policy in the world were pulled together on one platform, no policy maker could ever say that they hadn’t heard of a development or an innovation that could improve their own ideas and efforts. We’d solve a major problem.
I offer that insight because this week I spoke and participated on a number of panels around the world sat in my dining room at home in London. Here are some takeaways:
In partnership with the World Bank, Brookings, and Senator Bullrich I’ve been bringing system leaders together to learn from former Heads of Government how to frame political narrative. This week, we had the honour of hosting former President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri. One takeaway from our conversation what the need to embrace technology and use social media platforms to help frame narratives. Earlier in the series, the former Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi talked about constructing coalitions of interest as a way of influencing heads of government about education funding.
The dynamic and thoughtful, Daniel Dotse who founded Lead for Ghana invited me to speak to the Fellows of his programme about leadership lessons I had learnt. I spoke about some of the lessons I wrote about here, but was interested in the leadership lessons these young and dynamic leaders who were in classrooms in Ghana were learning. I’d love to revisit that conversation. I mentioned these three books as ones I had recently re-read which I thought were good primers for different aspects of this huge subject: (a) the Bhagvad Geeta (b) Dale Carnegie’s famous ‘How to Win Friends & Influence People‘ and (c) Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know by Ranulph Fiennes.
Mosharraf Zaidi of Tabadlab in Pakistan hosted an edtech panel, which involved a spirited discussion on the lessons learnt from the pandemic viz learning and education. I always find listening to those in contexts like Pakistan to be insightful and the key takeaway from the discussion that kept on coming through was the centrality of teachers to this discussion.
The panel included:
Salma Alam who is the founder of Durbeen–which has quickly come to assume a leading role as an organisation that is helping prepare teachers for the classroom of today.
Bilal Musharraf from Edmodo, an online learning platform with over 87 million users.
Zainab Qureshi-Siddiqui who leads the Harvard Evidence for Policy Design’s work on learning outcomes through the LEAPS programme.
Dr Farrah Asif, who is a LUMS professor, and the founder of Edtech Worx, which was inspired by a passion to alter the learning experience of students.
Vongai Nyahunzvi, Africa Director of Teach for All hosted a panel discussion on the promise of education in Africa, and I really enjoyed, as I always do, of the incredible strides being made on the continent by leaders such as those on my panel, which included:
Doreen Kessy, Chief Business Officer of Ubongo – who is an innovator and edtech pioneer in Africa.
Chris Bradford, Founder of the Africa Leadership Academy who is always so thoughtful in his remarks.
Dzingai Mutumbuka who always bring much needed wisdom based on his decade long experience as Education Minister of Zimbabwe.
We’ve gone from the initial panic around school closures to solving for many of the problems and challenges that have been thrown up as a result, whether they be the very serious issues connected to inequity or about pedagogy for online learning. I sense we are now headed towards having a conversation about what the ‘new normal’ looks like for the education sector.
Before we get there, we have to focus on how best to reopening schools and this is not just a matter of opening the school gates and continuing from where we left off. The closures have had huge issues, namely the learning loss that has taken place in the time that our kids have been off school. To pretend otherwise is a folly.
IF YOU WERE EDUCATION MINISTER, WHAT WOULD YOU PRIORITISE?
I was challenged this week to think about how in the context of budgetary cuts and a looming recession, how we could still play catch up effectively, and also consider the longer term reforms that need to take place to ensure education systems are fit for the future. No easy task, let me confess. Where do we even start?
I’d like your thoughts on what you would spend a hypothetical budget of £100 on three key priorities… please leave a comment below.
I also read that the Gates Foundation are concentrating their funding and efforts on Covid-19 and in the context of education, are looking to fund interventions that explore how we do online learning. Is that where we should focus?
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE KIDS, RIGHT?
Aashti Zaidi of the Global Schools Forum invited me to a Zoom call for their membership organisations, which I attended as an independent observer to hear their experiences of Covid-19. Interestingly, their membership spans those in the NGO sector as well as the for-profit education sector and I was interested to hear if government’s were taking into consideration the vital role that many of these providers have in these contexts. You can read their post here on their recommendations on how best to support them.
Education is, generally, highly ideological and in these times, we need to come together to ensure that we do the best for everyone.
They will be reviewing & selecting applications on a weekly rolling basis starting from 1st May until end of May, with successful applicants notified throughout. They will also be looking for inclusive solutions for marginalized groups (the disabled, displaced, refugees, girls, etc).
> Pivot conducted a survey of 3,500 teachers in Australia and New Zealand, and these were some of their results:
80% of teachers and school leaders believe that students will need extra instructional support when they return to in-classroom learning
70% of teachers say they have increased their planning time
90% of teachers say they want student feedback on their teaching
They say that boredom leads to creativity, so I’m delighted to share a photo of the hat my daughter made from an IKEA bag, apparently, it’s quite a fashion statement! Pleased that she channeled her creativity.
I’ve become increasingly worried about what happens to the education sector once lockdown is lifted. I don’t just mean returning to school, but that the so-called silver lining that this crisis has shown us will pass us by like so many opportunities in the past. This is mainly for two reasons:
With the looming recession, education budgets, like almost everything else, are going to be cut, which is the exact opposite to what is required to build the knowledge economy. The key question for me is how we make the case to protect funding, which is essentially a political decision in most countries. There is no question that the extra economic stimulus that has been injected into our economies will have to be paid for in some way, whether that’s through cut, raising taxes, or finding new sources of revenue. What I am absolutely certain about is that our Heads of Government and Finance Ministers will make the decision on what happens in education, and we really need to pray that they understand that the investments they make today are for the longer term.
Many have commented that changes that we are experiencing are irreversible. I’m not too certain about that. The structure of society and how we live and work have a huge impact on how education is also organised. The home-schooling / remote-learning experience of today is not sustainable and the boom we have seen in ed-tech could easily also reverse when we resume normal service and working hours. The big caveat is, of course, unless Ministries of Education the world over decide they want to embrace new learning technologies and make them a core part of how they see the provision of education, and there are great examples now from around the world where progress is being made at pace. What’s required is leadership from the private and public spheres to create a space and investment where subjects that are normally taboo can be explored in depth.
Professor Rose Luckin of the UCL Institute of Education asks for your help in completing this survey which should help us make sure we learn from this experience so that we can better support teachers, learners and the EdTech community post-lockdown.
Last week, we hosted a meeting on Teaching in the pandemic which over 200 teachers and system leaders took part in. A lot of discourse in education happens without teachers being involved and for this reason, Senator Esteban Bullrich and I wanted to bring them to the table and hear not only about their experiences but learn from the solutions they are putting in place.
Here are some takeaways:
Empathy and wellbeing have to be at the heart of all that we do for our students, families and communities. To do that, we must empower and support our schools and teachers with the resources they need now more than ever, as Yasodai Selvakumaran from Australia said.
Hard hitting but… Nadia Lopez from New York explained that she’s realised that equity is a choice. Not by those who have been disenfranchised by poverty, but those in positions of power to create policies and allocate funding that would give schools the budgets they require to meet the needs of their students.
We need a greater investment in services that education psychologists provide, Marj Brown from South Africa spoke about the importance and need she has realised in these times on the need to provide psycho-social support to students.
On assessments, Jim Tuscano from the Philippines posed an interesting question asking whether they are fit for purpose in an online learning environment. He also asked a great question on how primary learners can be taught online… still looking for answers, so please contact me if you have thoughts. Jim wrote this blog post after our session which captures what was said.
David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International spoke about collaboration, not competition, across organizations being key when it comes to what tools are available to students and teachers and cited Cameroon, Uruguay, Norway as examples around the world of systems making efforts to align resources, plan effectively at different levels.
From India, we heard from Akshay Saxena who commented how quickly people have come together through rapid innovation. His organisation managed to pull together open source content from Grade 1-12 in just a few weeks, reaching about 40% of students. Cheap data availability has aided this process. The one thing he would ask the government to do is to provide free data bundles to students.
Jiang Xuequin from China told us because of China’s success in edtech, there are two issues they are now facing – one being how do you build intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation. When you’re not in a class being driven by your peers, what happens?
In Belgium, Koen Timmers told us resources are being pulled together to get laptops and data free for every child. But, how do you use technology well if you do have access to it? He went on to say we need synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities through tech for guided and independent learning. Different ages and subjects require different approaches as well. Edtech is not just about delivering content.
Special education needs leader from the UK, Vijita Patel, reminded us that the process of learning in virtual schools is anchored in relationships. Especially for students with unique needs, these relationships are critical. Vijita also fleshed out these three priorities: (a) formative assessment: families as co-constructors; (b) agility of curriculum: do students understand this new normal? This is the most significant learning opportunity; (c) teacher well-being – the pressure to give students what they need.
Armand Doucet from Canada concluded our call and built on his advocacy for the profession given the challenges being faced today.
Also, very thankful to music teacher Jimmy Rotherham for ending our call with a song. Watch this to the very end. We shall overcome with a little help from our friends.
Alex Beard has been commissioned by the BBC to produce a three part radio series called The Learning Revolution which looks at the future of education, featuring the leading thinkers and most radical practices in teaching, technology, and more. Part I is on Knowing. Alex wrote a great book a couple of years ago called ‘Natural Born Learners’.
Mosharraf Zaidi from leading Pakistani think tank: Tabadlab drafted this report on the impact of Covid-19 on education there, which I am grateful for.
Music shares of the week:
How amazing was the Andrea Bocelli performance in support of Covid19 victims last week? I was so honoured to have hosted him a couple of years ago for the Global Teacher Prize ceremony. Watch my interview with him below.
I really enjoyed watching parts of the One World Together At Home concert on Saturday eve. It was great seeing the diverse acts from all over the world come together. I really enjoyed the Rolling Stones set (the one with the air drumming:)
Three weeks into lockdown and contrary to what you’re expecting me to say, isn’t it whizzing by?! I thought I’d have more free time! This is what’s occupied much of my time this week:
Senator Esteban Bullrich and I continue to bring friends together from across the world to delve into different aspects of the closure of schools. Next week on Tuesday, 14th April at 12pm UK time, we’re bringing together a larger group to learn, share and interact with some prolific teachers to listen to them and help solve for the issues they identify as impediments to do their jobs.
We’ve had one prep session and I’m stunned with what I heard! Hear from yourself next Tuesday.
If you wish to join us, please join this dedicated LinkedIn group: Education & Our World, where details of the call are posted.
I’m really delighted that these calls are proving to be useful. In the past two weeks, we’ve had presentations / launches of these reports:
Andreas Schleicher contributed insights from PISA 2018 on how well students and schools were prepared for school closures.
Fernando Reimers & Andreas Scheicher created a framework to guide an education response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Armand Doucet co-authored a guidance note for UNESCO and EI on how teachers need to think about pedagogy as schools move online as a result of this pandemic.
On our next call, David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International – the global federation of teacher unions will preview the findings of their global survey for the first time.
GREAT SHARES ON OUR LINKEDIN GROUP
Richard King of the Education Development Trust wrote about the implications for policymakers. Read here.
Lucia Dellagnelo shared the results of a huge survey in Brazil of 3,000 school districts where they summarise different models of remote learning that are being implemented by school districts and includes live and recorded classes to be broadcasted from local TV, from YouTube or other online platforms.
Alex Crossman who is a UK School Principal wrote about what they learnt from going into lockdown. Read here.
Marwa Soudi, a STEM expert from Egypt shared this post on why before new ideas to implement in schools are shared, we consider the wellbeing of teachers.
Professor Reimers published a new book , which is available for free online. In it he explains how to reform education systems so they educate all students as global citizens, with the necessary competencies to achieve the UN SDGs. Today, more necessary than ever!.
In so many ways, the world will miss achieving SDG4 on quality education if Nigeria fails to do more. To understand the local context, I visited Lagos in February as part of my responsibilities on the Africa Advisory Board for Teach for All and I was blown away with the work that Teach for Nigeria is doing.
For this reason, I was really bowled over when they asked me to be their first guest for a speaker series that includes all their Fellows, Alumni and supporters. My main points were informed by the information that’s been shared on how education systems are reacting to Covid-19, how others are solving for the inequities we see, and the role of teachers in these uncertain times.
These issues stood out from the call and my subsequent interactions with some of the Fellows:
Teachers as first responders should have been integrated into interventions early.
In some cases, given the dysfunctionality of state run school systems, everyone was left high and dry. The question we kept on returning to was how these teachers convince decision makers to understand and act on the reality school closures could be in place for an extensive period and alternate provision needs to be made.
One of the Fellows (Gideon Ogunfeyemi) shared on Twitter his idea to use religious venues like churches and mosques for dissemination of learning as these buildings often have loudspeakers attached to their external walls so that prayers can be heard by all in a village. Why not also use the same for mathematics?
At the risk of being overly self promotional, it was also great to receive feedback from those on the call:
Really great to have had @vikaspota join us this afternoon to remind us about the need to “Get s*** done!” as we prioritize the wellbeing & education of our children- Nigeria is the largest country in Africa & what happens in Nigeria determines what happens in the world. https://t.co/IpBXDOj40E
HOW DO WE GET EDUCATION FUNDING INCREASED AFTER COVID19?
I also serve on the Global Education Council of BETT, the education conference. The Council convened on Microsoft Teams this time, and in our discussions spoke about several issues and perspectives and I expressed my concern that with the looming post Covid-19 global recession, how do we protect education budgets?
Such challenging times always reinforce, at least for me, the need to deepen investments in education. I saw some social media announcements from institutions like the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which funds sector plans in the most fragile countries, and whilst I’m thankful for the $250 million facility which spans 67 countries, we need much much more to be committed and the question is how we impress upon donor countries to increase their funding for facilities like GPE or Education Cannot Wait, which itself announced the immediate release of $23 million for conflict ridden countries for education provision.
The pivot we need to make after schools return, with the longer term in mind, will require political leaders who commit further to education and building the knowledge society that has so often been spoken about.
How do we make the case? What do we need to do?
I am addicted to Radiooooo which allows you to listen to radio stations from around the world, and even select the decade which you want to hear music from. Great cultural asset, I think. Try it out.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
At a risk of making you think I’m obsessed with Magnolia trees, I promise this is the last pic (until next year)…
I have been enormously fortunate over the past decade to have had a series of leadership roles that speak to the transformative power of a good education. As a result of exceptional teamwork, I have built and led an education foundation that focused on teachers as the principal agents of change, I have made the case at UN platforms, the World Bank, G20 and to several Governments about the Sustainable Development Goals, I co-founded a business that provides vocational skills programs to tackle the youth unemployment crisis, and came to realise the need to embrace innovation and technology and have invested in start-ups that have huge potential in transforming our schools. I’ve not only set a vision and created strategies but I’ve built organisations that have delivered outsized results from ground up.
As I chart out the next
phase of my career, given the range of experiences and various
successes and failures, I thought it would be useful to reflect on the
lessons I learnt in the past ten years, some of which are shared below:
1. THERE’S NO SUBSTITUTE FOR FOCUS AND EFFORT.
Simplifying my personal commitments to prioritise family and work was a
game-changer. As tempting as it was to get involved with other
initiatives, I decided that doubling down on teacher status was what we
would do and we spent a considerable amount of time and our resources in
pursuing our goal. Hard choices had to be made and at the risk of
offending others, I had to learn to say ‘no’ a lot more than I wanted
2. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR WEAKNESSES AND BUILD STRONG TEAMS.
Building teams is the toughest thing I have done. I am incredibly lucky
to have had the opportunity to hire smart and talented people who put
their best feet forward each and every day. Realising what my weaknesses
were (and there were many), the team was able to plug my gaps. A good
example is what we achieved with the Global Education & Skills Forum,
which became one of the most pre-eminent annual convenings in the
global education calendar. The team really stepped up to deliver an
exceptional event every year.
I can never thank my former and
current colleagues enough for their contributions. Ten years ago, I was
new to education, international development and also to philanthropy.
The strides that were made were as a result of teamwork.
3. TREAT PEOPLE AS ADULTS. Treat
others how you’d like to be treated. As far as is possible, be as
transparent as you’d expect them to be with you. Management speak would
encourage you to be ‘authentic’ and lead with your ‘values’, for once
these gurus are correct! It takes work to be able to do so but by
trying, you’ll find the harder conversations become easier to have. I’m
not suggesting you don’t use other approaches, but…
4. LISTENING, A LEADERS SUPERPOWER.
It is true that as you get older, you tend to listen more. That
combined with the benefit of experience and hindsight can be the
difference in achieving your potential. I’d encourage you to talk less,
listen more. At the outset of my tenure at the Varkey Foundation,
I remember consulting key organisations as to what they thought our
priorities should be given we were just starting up, and by listing all
areas they were interested in, I realised no one really spoke about the
importance of teachers, which, as a direct result, became the focus of
our existence and resulted in starting a movement that gave front-line
teachers a voice in the most important debates concerning the future of
5. LEARN FROM EVERYONE. Talk to
everyone. It really is as simple as that. You don’t have to agree with
everyone (and they may even treat you as an adversary), but I found
exposing myself to new ideas, new environments, new people contributed
significantly to how I thought about my work and life. Many of these
conversations and lightbulb moments have resulted in actual growth
opportunities. There are so many such friends and acquaintances who I
owe a huge thanks to and for fear of missing people out I won’t start a
list, but please know that without diverse views and perspectives to
consider, the decisions we make are poorer.
6. WITHOUT COMMUNICATION, NO SUCCESS.
Contributing towards and shaping a vision is important, but I can’t
over-emphasise the need to put greater effort in communicating and
translating that same ideal to all your stakeholder groups. I learnt
that we have to use every tool at our disposal to bridge and explain
what is often perceived as unimportant or too complicated for others. By
doing so, we are more likely to have alignment with others and their
support for our activities when we need it most. I explain the success
of the Global Teacher Prize
in these terms. In the past five years, we exerted much effort in using
this initiative to drive home the importance of teachers. We used every
tool at our disposal to capture the imaginations of as many people as
we could and today, we see not just the billion dollars of media
coverage we received but an irreversible movement to place teachers at
the heart of sustainable development.
7. NOTHING IS DONE ALONE. You
can’t achieve much on your own. Building coalitions of interest,
partnerships with purpose and demonstrating a commitment to a bigger
goal is critical but often fraught with organisational politics, is
challenging and very time-consuming. Bringing people together and
building community are superpowers that leaders need to develop. Our
commitment to exert pressure on the G20 in Argentina
with a diverse range of civil society organisations last year, is an
example, which resulted in a formal declaration issued by the Presidency
that reflected many of the concerns raised, including on teachers and
the future of skills. We couldn’t have achieved this by ourselves.
my career, I have held the belief that multi stakeholder approaches
strengthen decision making and result in better outcomes.
8. DON’T FEAR ASKING FOR HELP.
You’ll be surprised as to the willingness of people in your network and
beyond to help you. For me, there’s been quite a few times that I’ve
become clearer in my thinking by picking up the phone and asking for
specific advice. Leadership can be very lonely if you let it be so. Many
of those I called became mentors to me and continue in that capacity
9. CONNECT THE DOTS. I just finished a book called ‘Rebel Ideas’
by Matthew Syed who speaks about the criticality of networking to the
development of an innovation culture. I know people roll their eyes at
the very thought of networking but it’s the force multiplier that allows
you to connect the dots for others. That’s what leaders have to do
(much more of).
10. BE MORE AMBITIOUS. If you
shoot for the stars you may fall short, but this shouldn’t deter you
from trying. It’s one of the things I most admire about entrepreneurial
cultures – unless you put yourself in the frame, how will you know what
you can achieve? I love this quote: “You miss a 100% of the shots you
don’t take”. This can apply in most domains and is a really important
leadership lesson. Be more ambitious for yourself, your colleagues, your
stakeholders, and your organisation.
I’m incredibly proud of my
time at the Varkey Foundation and associated organisations but after ten
years, it’s time for a new set of challenges, which I relish to take.
I’m in the process of evaluating some great opportunities and will share
more once I’ve decided what to pursue.
Every day of the last ten
years, I’ve been astonished and humbled by the commitment and
imagination of teachers in every corner of the world. Because of them,
we all rise. They, my friends, epitomise the most important lesson (and
one that is self explanatory, I hope) which I have purposely left to the
11. BE A GIVER, NOT A TAKER. You are in-service of others as a leader.
love to hear what the most profound management and life lessons you’ve
learnt in the past decade are. Please do leave a comment below.
In the wake of London Tech Week and London EdTech Week
last month, there is a sense of renewed optimism about the state of the
UK EdTech industry at the moment, coupled with a distinct feeling that
it maybe be gaining prominence compared to its flashier, more
established counterparts in Health Care and Finance – which itself has
recently been under the spotlight for London Fintech Week.
A tangible UK EdTech growth spurt is in evidence.
From 2014 to 2017, investment in European EdTech start-ups more than tripled in size, from €140mn to €490mn, with 35% of this €490mn figure attracted by UK start-ups and roughly a quarter of Europe’s EdTech companies based here.
While €490m represents just a third of the venture funding invested in US EdTech in 2017, just five years ago it was a tenth.
Britain’s growing status as an EdTech enabler
Britain’s growing status as an EdTech enabler has also just been
enhanced with the announcement that The World Bank, University of
Cambridge and UK tech companies are partnering with the government’s
Department for International Development (DFID) to create the largest
ever education technology research and innovation project.
This EdTech hub will conduct research into how innovations can be evaluated, scaled-up and used across developing countries in particular.
That’s £20mn of aid and a lot of expertise focused on helping
teachers and governments around the world, particularly in African
nations, choose the right technology for their classrooms.
Innovating education in Africa
At Tmrw Digital we have long been advocates of the pressing need to innovate education in Africa
as a global imperative, so the creation of this new hub, with real
investment from government and a meaningful partnership with the right
blend of players from academia and the private sector too, is hugely
London Tech Week, although only six years old, really came of age this year as Prime Minister Theresa May opened it for the first time.
The PM used the occasion to announce a £150mn investment in quantum
computing and 2,500 AI course places at universities, with 1,000
scholarships across the country. At the same time, she noted tech
companies around the world are investing £1.2bn in Britain.
This kind of priority given to the sector, backed with meaningful
investment and a further bringing together of relevant partners and
players, is just the kind of activity needed to boost, underpin and give
real meaning and weight to the government’s recent EdTech Strategy.
EdTech has a severe funding challenge
We must remember, however, that while UK EdTech companies raised
£300mn in funding between 2010 and 2018, this is still dwarfed by
funding in UK Fintech which received £2.6bn in 2018 alone.
By revenues, the global EdTech, Fintech, and Digital Healthcare
sectors are all roughly the same size, so it’s no exaggeration to say
EdTech has a severe funding challenge – fragmented and drawn-out buying
cycles often mean that investor returns in EdTech simply aren’t that
Specialist EdTech investment funds and accelerators are a large part
of the answer, yet they are still few and far between, especially in
Europe, although there are notable funds such as Emerge Education in the UK, and Brighteye Ventures and Educapital in Paris, a growing EdTech hub itself.
Assuming the funding is there, there are many areas of EdTech growth and opportunity. There is the growth of:
The shift of online content towards lifelong learning
And no shortage of companies providing software to improve educational outcomes at schools.
EdTech has huge potential to improve the efficiency and outcomes of
learning and I expect to see some big winners in the space over the next
Lifelong learning leading to vibrant EdTech hybrids
The lifelong learning trend is particularly advantageous for EdTech
firms to move into, as its market space is so broad and covers so many
It is also an area of key interest in the government’s EdTech
Strategy, which says it sees an increasing role for digital technology
supporting adults in up-skilling and re-skilling throughout their
career, particularly in response to changes in the labour market.
Interestingly, with the EdTech market covering such a wide range of technologies and applications:
Learning / educational platforms
Learning management systems
Study tools, and
Some notable intersections with HealthTech and FinTech are becoming
apparent, as they begin to produce some vibrant EdTech hybrids.
The financial education for university students app BlackBullion and
Lexplore, which helps children with reading difficulties such as
dyslexia, are good examples in this regard.
One of the UK’s fastest-growing industries
As one of the UK’s fastest-growing industries, with a 22% revenue growth
year-over-year, and accounting for 4% of all UK technology companies,
EdTech’s steady rise is good news for a country currently facing ongoing
London’s preeminent position as a launch pad for EdTech startups and
its growing reputation as a leading hub – with many foreign nationals
choosing to establish their EdTech companies in the capital – is also
unlikely to change soon.
If the UK can continue to nurture companies and connect the wide
variety of stakeholders in the industry, we are in the right place to
continue to contribute to – and benefit from – the sectors upward trend.
Vikas Pota, Group Chief Executive of Tmrw Digital
This article appeared on FE News on 25th July 2019
current schooling environment for children with special educational
needs and disabilities (SEND) is creeping up the news agenda. A report
in April by thinktank IPPR North identified funding cuts for SEND
children of 17% across England since 2015, and while government funding
through the “high needs block” increased by 11% across England during
that time, demand outstripped it, increasing by 35%.
Families and educators see a genuine crisis at hand. 1,000 councillors have recently written
to the education secretary urging the government to end spending cuts
and increase SEND funding, parents and teachers in 28 towns and cities
across the country marched in protest against the cuts in May, and families have now taken the government to court in a landmark legal fight. Clearly, solutions are urgently needed. With last month’s Learning Disability Week helping to raise awareness of SEND issues even further, it is a great time to consider how edtech can help those most in need.
There are direct consequences
of not rising to the challenge of assisting those with SEND. For
example, these children are significantly less likely to progress from a
school’s nursery into its reception than their classmates, and cuts and
reforms have reduced local authorities’ capacity to take action to
understand and address inequalities in early years provision.
already difficult situation is complicated by the wide variety of
conditions listed under SEND: communication and interaction
difficulties; cognitive and learning difficulties; visual, hearing and
other sensory impairments; as well of a long list of social, emotional
and mental health needs. Not only that, special needs can be highly
layered, and sometimes even invisible, creating a real challenge for
teachers and schools in providing effective help for the diversity of
students with disabilities.
There are direct consequences of not rising to the challenge of assisting those with SEND.
The fallout from not dealing with this challenge is profound. The Education Policy Institute
had no hesitation in a report last year listing SEND status among
prominent factors that have a long-term negative impact on a child’s
education and life opportunities, way beyond school into adulthood,
including income poverty, and “a lack of social and cultural capital and
control over decisions that affect life outcomes.”
According to the latest government data,
there are almost 1.3 million SEND children and young people in England
alone with 92% of those educated alongside their mainstream peers, so
there is plenty of opportunity for the latest technology to democratise
the quality of teaching to all in the classroom. Let’s also not forget
that the government’s own recently published edtech strategy
specifically asks industry, the education sector and academia to
“identify the best technology that is proven to help level the playing
field for learners with special educational needs and disabilities.”
such a challenging backdrop, however, edtech is not the magic bullet to
solve all these problems, but it can help. It will never replace
teachers, as their intuitive and empathetic connection with students can
never be replicated or automated. One of the benefits of this human
dimension, particularly for SEND students, is that it facilitates
personalisation, with teachers able to spend face time giving the best
tutoring and support to individual students in their classes with
different needs and abilities. If technology can cut down the time
teachers spend marking or reduce their administrative burden in other
ways, personalisation is further enabled and supported.
There is plenty of opportunity for the latest technology to democratise the quality of teaching to all in the classroom.
the government’s edtech strategy itself acknowledges, if implemented
and supported properly, technology has the ability “to reduce teacher
workload, boost student outcomes and help level the playing field for
those with special needs and disabilities.” One of the most encouraging
aspects of this Whitehall strategy is how it is actually open to
suggestions from the market, whether they are assistive technology
developers or education experts.
One of the historic problems that
has frustrated me for a long time has been a lack of meaningful
dialogue between the tech developers and those on the education coalface
who will have to use these tools. Tech and app developers would create
products which failed to work or be understood in the classroom, while
teachers felt their specifications and requirements were never featured
in the design process. This ‘understanding gap’ looks like it could be
bridged via the government’s new approach spelled out in the strategy,
which promises to bring together teachers and educators with innovative
edtech companies to tackle common challenges, as well as to make sure
those working in education are well-equipped with the necessary skills
and tools to meet the needs of schools, colleges and their pupils. This
seems like progress at last.
Many accessibility tools that can help SEND students available today and in development are app-based for easy download onto a Chromebook, iPad or other computing devices. This is an area we should continue to push on, following the US lead, where over 70% classrooms are expected to have an interactive display this year. Whether it’s already existing tech such as tools that read content aloud to those who can’t see it, or who learn better with audio, or new developments in sip-and-puff solutions for students with mobility challenges, the ever expanding world of edtech offers new hope and innovation every day for SEND students in particular, and there is plenty of potential for continued growth and innovation in this market.
Vikas Pota is group chief executive of Tmrw Digital