Shauna Hanna

EdTech UK Global Summit - Our key takeaways

Last Friday, an audience of influencers from across the education sector convened at the Edtech UK Global Summit in London’s City Hall to discuss the future of education technology in Britain. It proved to be an incredibly interesting event – as well as some of the most exciting innovators and startups forecasting future trends in the industry, a number of policy-makers and ministers were present, indicating that the UK edtech sector is indeed one tipped for take-off.

So if you couldn’t make it, or you’d like a high level overview of this jam packed event, here are our top takeaways...

The role of Government
The abolition of BECTA in 2010 has led to the growth of a largely school-led system and the growth of autonomous academies.  Alongside this, a thriving edtech ecosystem has sprung up.  BECTA had many critics, but one of the things it did provide was the opportunity for vendors to achieve scale. We firmly believe that’s what is missing from the current UK market and as result schools are paying more for software because it is costing vendors more to sell it.

Bridie Tooher has recently been appointed as the new head of edtech policy and data strategy at the Department of Education.  No formalised central strategy has been developed to date but she sees that the role of Government is one of an enabler and a facilitator of technology - to help overcome the barriers in order for learning providers to adopt technology.  The department is now working on what its agenda should be, incorporating learnings from the FINTECH and GOVTECH sector and establishing how it will work across other internal markets and connect with Further and Higher Education in particular for a linked up approach.  We look forward to seeing the outcome.

Speaker Panel at EdTechUK Global Summit
Liam Maxwell, National Technology Adviser to the Government offered “an open door policy” to the audience to “come and tell us what we should do to generate the best education system in the world.”  He also spelled out what he saw as the four key components for a successful ed tech sector in the UK:

  • Talent - attract, nurture and retention
  • Building wider skills in the economy to deliver problem-solving technology
  • Establishing a regulatory framework in order to help tech companies grow and maintain data privacy
  • Networking with other companies and markets in order to collaborate and generate value together 
We can learn from other countries
There is clearly a difference between the current growth of the UK edtech sector and the boom that our American counterparts have enjoyed over recent decades. The steady upward climb of edtech in America has been quite remarkable - the Education Technology Industry Network valued the total US edtech market at a massive $8.38 billion in the 2012-13 academic year.  Conversely, the UK is failing to incorporate technology in the classroom as effectively as it perhaps could. So, the great question is how can we in the UK learn from our neighbours and give the room for schools to fully incorporate edtech in the classroom for improved academic outcomes?

Richard Cullatta at EdTechUK Global Summit
Removing the traditional silos
We need to create tech that makes the lives of teachers easier and delivers efficiencies for them. “Standardisation is killing education.” remarked Richard Culatta, former Director of Office of Educational Technology, US Dept of Education.  We need to appreciate the differences and complex needs of today’s students and approach them via  personalised learning, blended learning and even self-directed learning.  One size doesn’t fit all.”

He echoed a need to move away from silos, from the very descriptive picture of education, to one that focuses more on:
  • Teacher involvement in actively using tech in the classroom
  • Teachers embedded in the development and testing of tech
  • Developers experiencing how tech is being used by students in schools

Transition from education to the workforce
Having a clear strategy for technology and education will undoubtedly help to bolster the edtech sector as well as helping to augment an already great education system,  one that prepare students for the 21st century workforce. But with that, comes another issue to tackle.  The current digital skills gap in the UK is costing us £63bn a year.  This is not a new problem. It has been flagged by the industry for at least 10 years and a number of times by different speakers during the event itself, however, no one is taking a long term view on how to solve this and it is an issue that needs to be addressed within the overall strategy.

Members of the audience at EdTechUK Global Summit trying out Google Expeditions
Looking to the future…
The future's looking bright in terms of what edtech can bring to students. The integration of technology into the classroom will have a huge impact on learning outcomes and digital literacy. Before this happens, the Government must take up the challenge of providing educators with the insight, confidence and guidelines to fully make the most of what’s on offer from the edtech sector – and this will certainly help the industry to flourish within the UK.

The very nature of the way students learn is changing and equally the world is changing too, so the challenge is also how to advise with confidence if we don’t know what the future is going to look like?

The participants at EdTech UK certainly voiced the premise of a “4th industrial revolution” - one that is driven by machine technology and automation.  The skills of today’s workforce will not be the same skills required of the workforce of the future. We cannot control or predict what the jobs of the future will be...but we can control the skills we develop in the classroom.  James Leonard from Google Education issued a challenge to all teachers to “Give students something to do. Not just something to learn.”  Social learning, engaging and relevant learning seems to be what helps to make teaching ‘stick’.


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