EdTech companies and the education revolution

Rachel Harris

09 Apr 2021

The UK is a nation divided on multiple lines.

One is the UK attainment gap, which widened in 2020 for the first time in 12 years, with disadvantaged pupils now 18.1 months of learning behind their wealthier peers. An imbalance that was well underway even before the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the education system.

But economic standing is not the only factor influencing this disparity; the causes are numerous and intertwined with every aspect of inequality in the UK. And this added complexity is likely why it’s been theorised that five hundred years is a realistic estimate of the time needed to fully close the gap.

In response, a big shift needs to happen if we’re to come anywhere close to realising educational equality in our lifetime. And for the first time, integrating EdTech tools is being seriously considered as an answer.

Covid-19’s impact on the education landscape

As the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, schools were closed, forcing remote learning for the first time.

There’s no doubt that this has been challenging for children, teachers and parents alike. Adapting to a new style of learning at the drop of a hat was never going to be easy, especially when the digital divide means many of our pupils did not have the tech they needed to learn.

And of course, teachers can support students in ways computers can’t. From pastoral care to building empathy, confidence, social skills and supporting collaborative learning – the classroom experience cannot be fully replaced.

But the widespread use of EdTech tools came about as close as humanly possible to replicating the real thing. And against the odds, teachers began noticing that students they expected to fall behind without face-to-face teaching were actually doing better than expected.

Part and parcel of this was the fact that students could learn at their own pace, watch videos as many times as they needed to come to terms with an idea, and take extra time to complete worksheets without holding up a lesson.

Teachers also felt better equipped to track and monitor pupil progress, immediately identifying learning gaps and providing additional resources to stop students falling behind. And in the midst of remote learning, people started taking note of its success.

The UK Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson himself stated that we must make sure “digitally agile teaching becomes the standard and not the exception, and that we continue to stretch ourselves to make the most of what technology can offer us.”

Taking our learnings from remote learning into the classroom can help our teachers support students in their academic weak spots – and level the playing field.

In addition, the use of AI and online learning in teaching frees up teacher time to provide individualised feedback. It also affords parents the resources to support their child’s learning from home – one of the greatest factors in predicting pupil achievement.

And the benefits of EdTech for pupils are not just confined to academic achievement. It promotes independent thinking, creates a sense of control over their learning and supports all important digital literacy skills.

Technology is already being used to solve some of the world’s biggest social issues, including modern slavery, world hunger and the digital divide. From the look of things, a focus on technology to help close the attainment gap is just around the corner.

So, what can EdTech companies do to prepare?

Accessibility > Innovation

Disparity in access to technology was one of the key concerns with remote learning. Companies should focus not on creating new and exciting educational tools, but rather shaping digital tools to make their benefits available to all, whether it’s inside or outside the classroom. Make sure your product is easily integrated with existing classroom software, or can be easily accessed by students through common browsers.

Align to government goals

Pupil performance is based on the national curriculum and this isn’t going to change anytime soon. For the greatest success your product needs to be aligned to the phase (primary/secondary/16-18) and key stage you want to target. While creating a foreign language alternative to help primary age children is great, it’s likely not going to be a consideration for primary schools when assessments are focused on English, maths and science.

Know your target audience

Who are your buyers, end users and influential stakeholders? As with any industry, you need to make sure you get this right. It’s not just the buyer you should be targeting here. You must also win over the PTA board, the teachers, and the students themselves. If your time should be spent anywhere, it should be at this stage.

Let your product do the talking

You know the power of your product but do your audience? Funding is a big issue in education and one that’s historically slowed down the adoption of EdTech. Convince your audience that their money’s best spent on your product by letting them see its value through a demonstration, free trial or stripped-back free version. Take tracking software MasterConnect as an example here, with their free version for verified teachers/admins.

Get your pricing right

The funding issue doesn’t mean you should try and be the cheapest option. Under-pricing your EdTech product creates the same problems as it does in other industries – as the budget option, you may get boxed into this area and find it harder to reinvest in your marketing or improve your product when the time comes. Understand your profit margins and research your competitors’ pricing and audience’s budgets to stay competitive and inspire confidence.

We know that a big shift needs to happen if we’re to come anywhere close to achieving attainment parity in our lifetime. And from the looks of things, this education revolution is just around the corner. Education ministers and teachers alike are taking notice of the role EdTech can play in helping close the attainment gap – so make sure they’re noticing your product too.