Some of us were born in the wrong era. Back-to-school essentials used to include nothing more advanced than a scientific calculator in amongst your new pens and jotters. In 2015, pupil’s bags are packed with laptops, tablets and other gadgets. Technology has been making inroads into education for decades because it gives learners access to a wealth of knowledge and resources undreamed of in previous generations. Companies across the UK are doing the math and can see the edtech sector is valued at £17bn a year at home and £60bn globally. However, you shouldn’t be under the impression that the roads are paved with gold; schools are notoriously slow at paying up and with cashflow being something that can very quickly cripple SMEs, it’s not a sector for the faint-hearted.
Larger companies like Samsung are seeing the potential. The Korean tech firm has set up Digital Classrooms and Digital Academies in the UK to ensure that as many students and teachers as possible have access to the technology and resources needed to develop their digital skills. “As a major technology company whose very foundation is innovation, we feel we have a responsibility to help educate and excite future innovators,” says Andy Griffiths, president of Samsung Electronics UK & Ireland. An increasing number of SMEs and start-ups are feeling the responsibility – and seeing an opportunity – also.
Leaving no paper trail
With a whole new generation of pupils that hasn’t known life without mobile phones, there is a need to bridge the gap between old and new in schools. Ko-su comes top of the class on the subject and was recently listed on the Guardian’s Startup of the year showcase for its efforts. “The idea was to have a platform where anyone can very quickly create an interactive learning experience that they can publish through a mobile app,” says Gerlinde Gniewosz, the company’s founder and CEO. Answers can be submitted to the teacher or trainer via the app and from there comments and feedback can be given. Taking away the reliance on paper would make ‘the dog ate my homework’ a thing of antiquity.
Ko-su, which is the Japanese word for ‘course’, set up in 2011 and in the last 12 months has doubled its user base to more than 10,000 in over 140 different countries. “Ko-su’s appeal is that people want that flexibility,” says Gniewosz. “With mobile you can move about the classroom, take pupils on an excursion and still input answers onto devices.”
The potential for going global in the sector is huge. “The emerging markets are the quickest adopters, especially in the Middle East,” says Gniewosz. Ko-su piloted in a school in Oman, for which the school won a regional prize for innovation and in the edtech sector there is no better validation. “They had the time and space to experiment and it proved very, very effective for them, whereas in the UK we’re still stuck wondering if we should even be using this technology,” says Gniewosz.
Meeting the parents
For too many parents, the homework diary is the only means of knowing what their kids got up to at school. Grumpy teenagers give little away when asked, “how was school?” which is why Schoop has developed an app that enables communication within schools between parents, teachers, pupils and any other school stakeholders. Push notifications act as reminders for homework assignments, events and information relating to local sports clubs and community organisations.
“The information flow is one-way and non-sensitive, meaning that anyone with an interest can easily connect with the school,” says Paul Smith, founder and CTO of Schoop. The firm’s efforts have not gone unnoticed: Smith has pitched the app to 10 Downing Street as one of the most promising tech companies in the UK and in June will be part of the Digital Dozen at the Digital 15 event, championing emerging technologies in Wales.
“Edtech is a big market but it’s a market in which a lot of companies falter,” says Smith. “Unless you can actually give schools a reason to want your technology, you have no chance.” Schoop must be doing something right, as having only set up in January last year, it now works with 200 schools stretching from Nottingham to Brighton and 10% of south Wales.
“Once you get one school on board, you tend to find a cluster will follow, which can be anything from five schools to fifteen,” says Smith. He foresees exponential growth over the next two years for Schoop and an overall rosy future for EdTech.
Bridging the gap
Learning doesn’t stop at school or university and, with the growing gap between education and the skills needed in employment, even the government can see that something needs to be done. This is why Proversity is on a mission to provide accessible, tailored e-learning programs, not just in the UK but across the world. It is doing so in conjunction with some top employers in order to provide essential skills, so that workers can better contribute to their workplaces from day one.
“Our aim is to build digital universities by employers,” says Andrew Clements, CCO (chief commercial officer) at Proversity. It has been designed so that school leavers or apprentices, for example, can sit at home with their iPad or phone and take an hour or two-hour course that does not resemble a dull 1990s e-learning module. “Where we can help most is with those young people not in education, employment or training,” says Clements. Proversity even goes on step further and will actually help these people in to jobs by vetting, setting up interviews and further coaching.
The company is backed by Telefonica as well as several other private investors and is currently going through a series A investment round of several million. As for what the future holds, Clements says continued expansion in the UK is on the cards and, in the next six to nine months, the company will be opening offices in Saudi Arabia, Chile and America. “We’ll definitely see rapid growth as we’ve been very fortunate that we had an idea and a concept that was prime-timing.”