Impressions from the Ed Tech Panel event

We were delighted to host a panel about EdTech (Education Technology) on Tuesday 3rd October, for which we were joined by speakers from the Education and Training Foundation, Tata Consultancy Services and SmartPA. Our panellists showcased some of their organisations’ innovations and projects and discussed the potential for EdTech to empower educators and learners globally.

The discussion was focussed on the potential of EdTech at three key levels. Dermot Finnigan, Strategic Sales Enablement Lead from Tata Consulting Services, spoke about tackling the digital divide with their new device TCS iON ‘Paper’. These handheld devices, with a unique operating system, can be distributed to rural areas without internet access, enabling assessments to be taken and courses to be completed offline. This ensures that educational resources can be made available to a wide range of students, and we heard about large and small-scale case studies in India and Japan. Vikki Liogier, Head of Learning Technologies at the Education & Training Foundation, presented fascinating insights into their professional development programmes, which are crucial to help teachers integrate technology into their teaching methods and adapt to the changing educational landscape. Finally, Sarra Bejaoui, Founder and Chief Experience Officer at SmartPA, gave an inspiring account of how education technology can empower women and reintegrate them into the economy.

What followed was a lively Q&A with many contributions and challenging questions, focussing on data, teacher training and how programmes are being adapted to learners. The main issue around data in our discussion was how to identify, collect and manage the data that we need in a responsible and efficient way. We also spoke about needing more research and data on EdTech itself. One example of data sets which we currently do not have, but feel we need, is the ‘invisible carbon footprint’ of using digital technology (including the environmental cost of production of hardware, raw materials, power and shipping) compared to the carbon footprint of in-person education and using pen and paper. As the modern world is now fundamentally digital, reverting to ‘traditional’ methods may be neither feasible nor desirable, and the priority for industry now is increasing access to digital technology whilst keeping carbon footprint down. Though there is currently a lack of sufficient data and research for such a comparison, there was much interest in the room in the results of this.

Teacher training was another key theme, as building teacher capacity through training and support, from a pedagogical standpoint as well as a technical one, is crucial to the effective integration of technology into education. Given the significant pedagogical impact of distance and hybrid learning models, it is clear that practitioners and students need support and guidance to benefit from these changes. I experienced this first-hand at university, when almost overnight and only three months from exams, it was announced that all exams would be typed on-line, rather than handwritten in-person. Whilst this was good news for those who could touch-type, it drew attention to the large number who could not, and the disparity between them, although no support was offered. This was also difficult for teachers, who were now faced with using online marking tools with no experience and very little time to learn. The solutions presented by our panellists were very welcome and are already helping educational practitioners to thrive.

Adapting programmes to learners is one of the key benefits of EdTech, as it enables flexibility and personalisation. Whilst we are now seeing a more consultative approach with better results for everyone, the journey up to this point was not all plain sailing. As mentioned above, the Covid-19 pandemic caused a seismic shift towards digital platforms, especially Microsoft Teams and Zoom, and forced the education industry in many countries to adopt these technologies. The sudden and huge influx of players into the market came with underdeveloped and unsuitable offerings, which had been created without proper consultation of teachers and education providers. In addition, the lack of basic digital skills in consumers was also a big barrier to EdTech uptake, as according to the Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index 2022, 22% of non-retired adults do not have the Essential Digital Skills needed for the workplace. We have all been, and often still are, accidentally on mute when trying to speak in a virtual meeting.

Although the introduction was sudden, digital technology is now becoming properly integrated into the Education Industry, and according to the Lloyd’s Bank Consumer Digital Index, lockdown caused a digital jump forward of five years in the UK. We heard first-hand from our panellists about the great potential of EdTech to remove barriers to access to education, and for economic and social empowerment. This potential can only be realised if the industry comes together to share lessons learnt and uses them to build a better tomorrow. After what was an engaging and informative event, it is clear that EdTech is in a very exciting place, and we cannot wait to see what the next year brings.

Amalie Coleman

Programmes & Events Intern

British Expertise International

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