Be a giver, not a taker – ten leadership lessons from the past ten years

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 to.

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 education.

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.

Throughout 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 even today.

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 end:

11. BE A GIVER, NOT A TAKER. You are in-service of others as a leader.

I’d 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.

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Can UK EdTech catch up with its older siblings in FinTech and HealthTech ?

Vikas Pota, Group Chief Executive of Tmrw Digital

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 welcome.

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 attractive.

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:

  • Kids coding
  • Language learning
  • The shift of online content towards lifelong learning
  • Corporate 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 few years.

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 sectors.

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
  • School administration
  • Learning management systems
  • Communication platforms
  • Study tools, and
  • Learning analytics

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 Brexit uncertainty.

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

Can edtech help address the deepening special educational needs crisis in our schools?

The 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.

An 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.”

Against 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.

As 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

This article appeared on ET on 6th July 2019

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