“But how did you write your essays without Wikipedia and Google?” – a question many kids ask their parents
Digital technology is changing the world. Some call this the age of disruption, with technologies upsetting apple carts everywhere, from the most basic and menial of jobs to the most complicated.
We can now easily put humans into space, produce pulp-free juice in our own homes and link the whole world up to this video of Madonna falling off the stage at the 2015 Brit Awards – in a matter of seconds.
But on the flip side of digital disruption is opportunity. Across the world, industries are in a mad scramble to adopt, adapt and innovate. One area that has seen steady progression because of technology (though maybe not nearly enough) is education. Perhaps this is what Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, meant when he said in 2009: “The Web as I envisaged it, we have not seen it yet, the future is so much bigger than the past”.
And he was right, of course.
According to EdSurge, US$2.3 billion was invested into companies developing technology for education in the US between 2010 and 2015. Through venture capital investment, these companies, which include Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who has funded projects with MasteryConnect and Panorama Education, are able to transform teaching methods through technology.
Panorama Education, for example, uses surveys with students, teachers and parents to provide actionable data that enables educators to address some of the issues in education and support student success.
MasteryConnect, on the other hand, uses competency-based learning solutions and creates tech tools for lesson planning and measuring student progress.
— Eduspire Solutions (@Software4Ed) June 25, 2017
Other edtech companies include Blinklearning, which enables teachers to build lessons and create customised textbooks from over 30 publishers worldwide; and Kramer: Classroom Collaborative, which allows students to work together on any wireless device, making group work a whole lot easier.
The capital that flows through these tech businesses is thick and fast with little supervision from the state. But this is much appreciated, as governments rarely have enough budget to provide state schools with technology-focused learning.
This funding is mainly aimed at middle-school students, with tech investors also encouraging students to learn coding, computer science and programming, which they call the language of the future.
But all this also begs the question: Why isn’t there more of a focus on edtech in universities?
Australia’s Serpentine Jarrahdale Grammar School technology coordinator Pete Brown says education has to embrace technology, “by staying current and connected with industry – which schools struggle with because it is a threat to them. They are at times too comfortable”.
Although some edtech companies are concerned with higher education, there certainly isn’t enough. For example, Story2 is a programme that helps students applying for higher education to write creative and engaging university admission essays. It’s a brilliant tool, but only beneficial until you either get accepted or rejected.
— AerialSpaces (@useAerial) May 24, 2017
One of the most successful edtech companies aimed at higher education is University Now. Their US$17 million investment, which was partly funded by Kapor Capital, has allowed Story2 get closer to their mission of “higher education affordable for everyone”.
If the government, who still have many more levers to pull in terms of controlling how teachers teach and educational establishments function, pushed more for tech funding in universities, the prospects of higher education institutions and their students could skyrocket.
Higher education tech funding can create carefully constructed distance learning programmes to allow students to gain valuable experience within the industry they are training for, whilst studying.
But that’s an example that barely touches the surface. Tech investors are undoubtedly shaping and influencing the educational system, but a large focus needs to be directed toward higher education institutions. These students are the immediate inventors, creators, and wonders of tomorrow. Governments could do so much more to let their talents be nurtured and propelled into the spotlight through much-needed investment.
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