Edtech needs to bridge the divide - Some practical considerations for South African companies wanting to invest
Edtech — hardware, software and content designed to improve the quality of and access to learning, as well as linkages to lasting employment — can revolutionise education.
Such innovations can reduce costs and tailor learning to the individual in unprecedented ways. Solutions such as Edmodo, ClassDojo and Knewton boast millions of users, and funding has poured into the sector — in 2017, venture capital funding for edtech startups in the United States reached about $1.4-billion, and the K-12 edtech segment (kindergarten to grade 12) is valued at $15.2-billion globally.
Better-off schools in South Africa have picked up on these technologies, and an industry has arisen to meet the needs of private and fee-paying public schools that can afford such tech. But these school only account for 25% of the nearly 26 000 schools in South Africa, leaving the other 75% unserved.
Edtech risks exacerbating the digital divide by widening the chasm at a time when the country desperately needs a workforce that is ready for the digital era.
Why aren’t we seeing these technologies reaching the pupils who need them the most? And what can be done to ensure the education system is truly leveraging edtech to strengthen opportunities for learning?
But there are practical challenges such as:
* Teachers fear technology partly because many did not grow up with it and thus feel uncomfortable using it, especially around digitally native learners
* Technology is an enabler for the existing education system, not a way of replacing its core assets, and edtech will never take off without willing and able teachers
* If a solution does not address immediate needs such as curriculum coverage, test scores and language, it will not be a priority
* Edtech is focused on the well-off segments that can afford to pay, and is often developed by those who are a product of those same affluent schools
* Too many solutions are sold or donated to poorer schools in poorer areas, only to fail over time (don't test in affluent schools if you intend to scale to poorer schools)
* Edtech firms propose pilots in the hope that, once schools and governments use their products and see the value, they will invest (but governments often have to follow open tender routes to procure)
* But for government, pilot projects rarely translate into larger investments (scaling often becomes unaffordable)
* Buyers, whether at the school level or in government, struggle to make informed decisions about which complex technology is right for them, and are often inundated with purchasing decisions and vendor choices (they should develop non-brand specific requirements before looking at solutions)
|Edtech needs to bridge the divide
Problems such as cost and inadequate teacher support reduce its availability to all schools