The ‘new normal’ for teachers

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.

What is the ‘new-normal’ in education?

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.

COMMUNITY BUILDING ON LINKEDIN – you can join the group here.

The LinkedIn group that I set up a few weeks back had the following contributions, which may be of interest:

> Strategy consulting firm, McKinsey published this piece on school system priorities in the age of Covid-19. I like the priority they placed on supporting teachers.

> The Edtech Hub which is a a $25 million 8-year EdTech research initiative of the World Bank, DFID and the Gates Foundation is seeking tech-enabled solutions and edtech experts for:

  • out-of-school formal & non-formal distance learning/assessment
  • teacher/principal/parent support solutions
  • the psychosocial & socio-emotional side-effects of COVID-19
  • rapid education data collection systems … for low- & middle-income countries (Africa, Asia & the Middle East).

View the call for proposals here: https://lnkd.in/e3MCX75

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

CREATIVITY

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.

ARE ALL THESE CHANGES IRREVERSIBLE?

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.

An infographic shared by Tabadlab

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.

Watch the session by clicking the image – David Edwards from EI opened our session

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.

Interesting articles & reports of the week:

Education hit hardest by Covid19 in the UK – says it how it is!

How Covid19 will change the Conservative Party– we need to understand how to present the case for education taking this into consideration

Why India has such few deaths: written by a friend but sharing because it’s a question my family asked just last week.

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…

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.

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-07 at 16.45.27

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!.

You can join the LinkedIn group, which in one week has gone from 0 to 500 members! 

I SPOKE TO NIGERIAN TEACHERS & INNOVATORS

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:

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?

MUSIC SHARE

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)…

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-10 at 21.01.54

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

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

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