The UK Government, Department of Education, published this report (66 page PDF) documenting the EdTech startup landscape, and it’s potential for shaping the delivery of teaching and education policy.
A key starting observation is that the Covid pandemic caused unprecedented disruption and with that also created an opportunity for a new perspective on the value and use of the technology, although caveats this with saying they do not represent a panacea for solving those challenges, and that there is no single EdTech initiative that will prove optimal in all settings.
Adopting innovative EdTech tools alone is not enough to secure improvements in education. How it is implemented and embedded by schools and colleges is critical to achieving the perceived benefits.
Schools and colleges in England have experienced barriers to the uptake of EdTech, including the cost and availability of EdTech tools; staff skills and confidence; connectivity barriers; safeguarding and data concerns; and concerns around pupil’s ability to engage in EdTech from home, particularly due to the socioeconomic ‘digital divide’.
- The UK EdTech market grew by 72% in 2020, estimated to reach £3.4 billion by the end of 2021.
- The largest EdTech companies are based in the USA and China. There are over 600 in the UK.
- The UK is the first EdTech investment destination in Europe, taking 30% of the value of all deals, and attracts almost half of all EdTech investment coming into Europe.
- In the UK and Europe investment in the sector increased tenfold since 2014, set to surge from €625 million in 2020 to nearly €1.6 billion in 2021.
While EdTech is becoming more prominent on a global scale, the education sector has been described as “grossly under digitized”, with less than 4% of overall global education expenditure on tech.
EdTech is projected to grow by two and a half times from 2019 to 2025, reaching $404 billion in total global expenditure, forecast to double in size to $600 billion by 2027. However, even at this level, EdTech and digital expenditure is projected to make up only 5.5% of the global education market.
EdTech Categories and Technology Trends
The report identifies the following main categories of EdTech vendors:
- Hardware (9%) – Classroom Technology and Institutional Devices, including Virtual Reality (VR), Mixed Reality (XR) head-sets and other simulation devices.
- Software (49%) – Marketplaces, Peer to Peer Learning, Coaching and Mentoring Networks, Apps, Cloudbased management systems and tools (LMS, SIS, CRM etc).
- Services (42%) – All online forms of Pre-K, K12 and HE, Tutoring and Test Prep, OPMs and Bootcamps, Digital Internships, Apprenticeships and Mentoring.
It also further notes the distinction between ‘B2C’ and ‘B2B’ suppliers, those providing services directly to students, parents and workers (46%), versus those selling solutions to educational institutions for them to provide the services (54%).
Based on calculations in 2018, the largest global expenditure in advanced technology is in Virtual and Augmented Reality (VAR), followed by Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Blockchain (this last one comprising a very small slice of the market). However, by 2025 it is expected that, AI will become the second largest area of expenditure in terms of advanced technology after VR/AR, followed by Robotics, and Blockchain.
The main dynamics and applications of these technologies are noted as:
- AI (Artificial Intelligence) – Intelligent tutoring systems, explanatory learning environments, AI enhanced continuous assessment, AI learning companions, essay scoring, student forum monitoring, AI teaching assistants and ‘early warning systems’, detecting students at risk of dropping out.
- Blockchain – Reduce the need for a paper-based system for certification, more cost-efficient and secure data management structures, simplified transfer of educational records, facilitate the exchange and credentialing of small units of learning such as MOOCs or corporate professional development provided by companies, stop fake degrees and certifications and facilitate payments within institutions. In many countries, blockchain-based cryptocurrencies are likely to find significant use in grant or voucher-based funder.
- Virtual and Augmented Reality (VAR) – VAR-systems are particularly useful for students that need to practice new skills and tasks before applying them in a real context. When implemented successfully, VARsystems allow students to rehearse risky or expensive processes in safe and controlled conditions that otherwise would not be possible. In these settings, VAR-based simulations can be used to assess skills that are not easily measurable through written or oral tests.
- Social Robots – Robotics, like AI, are another form of emerging technology with the potential to support students and teachers in specific tasks and make education more personalised. In particular, the use of “social robots” in education has been described as one of the most promising prospects for adaptive learning.83 These robots tend to have a friendly design with face-like features, indicating an ability to speak, hear and see – giving them lifelike behaviour. Some robots have built-in AI systems that allow them to detect and identify individuals by using face and voice recognition.
Drivers and Geographies
The report identifies the main drivers of EdTech adoption are the levels of Internet access and devices and the digital skills and competencies of teachers and students, with the pandemic acting as a major catalyst for driving demand, which has created unforeseen levels of opportunity for EdTech.
It analyzes local trends and characteristics of EdTech adoption by different countries:
|EdTech market||In 2021, the French EdTech market was estimated to have a €1.3 billion turnover and hosted 500 start-ups, with a total of 10 000 employees.||As one of the European EdTech frontrunners, Denmark owes its high level of digital infrastructure and competences to a long-standing tradition of investing in digital equipment, online resources and teacher digital skills since 2011; when an investment of DDK 45 million (approx. 6 million EUR) was made, investments followed in 2015 and 2016.||Globally, the United States has the largest number of EdTech companies and the most venture capital funding for those companies. The country’s large economy, population size, and tech and innovation hubs such as Silicon Valley are factors behind the success.||China governs the largest K–12 education system in the world, with approximately 130 million students enrolled in primary and secondary public schools and colleges. Within the primary education system alone, 167,009 public primary schools and colleges operate 2,683,706 classrooms.|
|Leading EdTech players||360Learning, Ornikar Formation, Openclassrooms , Livementor, Simundia, Webforce3, PowerZ, Edflex.||Labster, Eloomi, Lix Technologies, Lifeasapa Foundation, CanopyLAB, Peergrade, Famly, MyMonii, Shape Robotics||Alphabet Inc., Blackboard Inc., Chegg Inc., Coursera Inc., Edutech, edX Inc., Instructure Inc., Microsoft Corp||17zuoye, DaDaABC, CodeMao, Changingedu, Huohua Siwei, Hujiang, Zuoyebang, VIPKid, and Yuanfudao|
|EdTech model||Public-private sector emerging cooperation||Public-private sector cooperation||Private sector with high levels of autonomy||Public sector central control|
|Key challenges||Facilitating stronger public private sector cooperation.
There seems to be a mistrust within the evolving relationship between the world of education (public sector) and the world of EdTech (private sector). EdTech players companies also report systematic bottlenecks including a lack of a national vision, and complex rules for gaining access to both private capital and public financing.
Government investments have also been criticised for focusing on building a ‘digital fleet’ of hardware (e.g., computers or tablets), while largely neglecting the needs for digital resources, including software, and for not investing enough in digital teacher training.
|Retaining expertise to benefit the domestic market, in view of high % of tech exported.
One of the barriers for Danish EdTech firms moving forward is the small size of the domestic market, which is dominated by big players. Many EdTech businesses in Denmark, therefore, have to look abroad to build a market position and revenue.
Another challenge for the Danish EdTech sector concerns how to manage data governance and ethical considerations, especially in respect to GDPR.
Partially addressing this issue, the ‘Netflix model’ (whereby all teachers and pupils have one unique login access across primary and secondary school to access EdTech tools, this will be further addressed later on in this report) was put in place in country, providing all teachers and pupils with a unique login across primary and secondary to access a range of EdTech tools. Additionally, teachers and educationalists may at times be reluctant to adopt digital tools in their classrooms.
|Safeguarding public interest, equity and accountability.
There has been a strong digital divide in accessing EdTech across groups of different socioeconomic background. For example, in 2019, only 54% of all low-income families had a computer at home, compared to 83% and 94% among middle- and high-income families.46 The digital gap has been widened over the course of the pandemic, as the equity gap has continued to increase.
This also corresponds with differences in the confidence and competence with which EdTech is deployed in American schools and colleges, with a reported over-concentration of skills, expertise and infrastructure in schools and colleges within more affluent areas, relative to schools and colleges with a student population including higher proportions of lower SocioEconomic Status (SES) families.
|Continuity in domestic market following policy reforms; widening rural access.
China is a world leader with a well developed EdTech ecosystem that not only drives innovation through top-tier talent but also supports awareness and adoption via centralised communication and payment platforms that facilitate both word-of-mouth and traditional marketing exposure.
There is a direct link between teachers and EdTech providers: teachers are introduced to EdTech platforms (and convinced of their value) by the companies themselves.
The uneven distribution of EdTech products and services across China, became even more uneven with the pandemic. The COVID-19 EdTech roll-out made it clear that internet infrastructure is critical, online training for teachers inadequate and education inequality still an underlying challenge.
Barriers and Adoption Strategies
A survey of teachers identified the following main perceived barriers to the adoption of EdTech:
- Cost of EdTech hardware / school budgetary constraints (71%)
- Staff knowledge in what different EdTech products do (50%)
- Staff confidence with technology (38%)
- Digital divide / access barriers among households (35%)
- Poor or varying quality of EdTech resources (26%)
- Staff skills (26%)
- Staff knowledge in what tools are most suitable for my schools’ needs (25%)
- My school’s leadership not thinking EdTech is important (8%)
- Parents do not think EdTech is a priority (6%)
- Teachers in my school are not willing to use EdTech (6%)
A number of initiatives and programs are suggested to address these challenges:
- Consistent funding support – Teachers from state schools and colleges were more likely to select this option (73%) compared to private schools and colleges (53%). This corresponds to feedback from the workshops, with participants noting that funding was uneven and inconsistent.
- Centralized EdTech policy direction and teacher skills – A number of challenges come under the single umbrella of schools being required to set their own EdTech policy strategy, which they feel under equipped to do and would be better addressed as a national set of recommendations. Furthermore this should be supported by making EdTech skills a feature of professional development for teachers, and providing resources to help with this adoption.
- IT systems design – EdTech solutions were sometimes seen as unnecessarily complex, which discouraged teachers and pupils from using them. Features such as two-factor authentication and multiple platforms caused frustration and led to less positive experiences. This was especially true for teachers who are often over-burdened and do not have time to familiarise themselves with multiple platforms.
- Infrastructure modernization – Schools and colleges are often not set up to facilitate use of technology. Buildings can be old and not designed for implementing EdTech solutions, and some schools and colleges suffer with connectivity and WiFi coverage issues.
Fundamentally the report points to the need for the modernization of Education wholesale, with the integration of EdTech policy and capabilities central this transformation, in a form that enhances teaching practices and supports teachers, achieved through:
- Teacher skills and leadership – The importance of school leadership came through strongly, where there was a central message around the critical role played by head teachers and college principles in decision making about the procurement and use of EdTech and the strategic positioning of technologies, but a major challenge is the EdTech skills and awareness of teachers. Participants reported that there were large gaps in teachers’ knowledge around digital solutions, and that any training should start with basics in order to be inclusive.
- Enhanced, integrated teaching – There is evidence that digital solutions may have negative impacts on pupils’ educational and social development where they are not fully integrated to teaching and learning practices and / or lack a sound pedagogical basis. Over-reliance on digital tools at the expense of high-quality instruction has been linked with negative outcomes for pupils’ cognitive and social emotional development.
- Evidence-based policy – Evidence-based EdTech teaching resources were the most popular form of future support, having been selected by just over half (51%) of teachers in the survey. A desire for better evidence was expressed by workshop participants and EdTech experts. While acknowledging that there is some available evidence about ‘what works’, the workshops showed a demand for more nuanced information about the educational benefits of diffident tools and platforms, along with guidance to support practical implementation.
The following actions were recommended to address these challenges:
- Pilot projects – Support for pilot projects involving schools and colleges and EdTech providers (selected by 29% of teachers) could be one possible way for building the evidence base. One of the consulted EdTech experts noted a greater need for educator and pupil involvement in the development of EdTech solutions, so pilot projects could be a way to facilitate greater involvement from end users.
- A central EdTech hub – The next most popular form of policy support was the introduction of national resource centres (such as an online directory of resources), which was selected by approaching two thirds (30%) of teachers. This corresponds to the barrier described above of lack of clarity around different available EdTech solutions and their quality. Workshop participants echoed the need for a centralised hub, with one commenting that “it’s crying out for an umbrella organisation to take over and manage this”.
- Professional Network – There was also support for professional networks and platforms aimed at teachers (29%). This corresponds to feedback from workshops, where peer support was seen as an effective way to boost teacher skills and confidence in using EdTech, both within and between schools and colleges. There was support for national guidance on what EdTech products to use (24%) and how to use EdTech products (20%), as well as for national standards on the types of EdTech products to use (17%).
- Teachers as creators of EdTech – In the future, educators can become co-creators of new applications and ‘create demand’ for future EdTech solutions, instead of just being users of such technologies. Essentially, the future EdTech solutions “should be co-designed and co-created using processes that involve educators, learners and other stakeholders in the development process”.