What Edtech Companies Need to Think About on Their Way to be The Next Unicorn

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What Edtech Companies Need to Think About on Their Way to be The Next Unicorn

Written by Jaspal Sidhu
SIS Group of Schools, Founder and Chairman

Jaspal Sidhu

A message for Edtech founders from the frontlines of education

Covid-19 has badly disrupted education in Asia, dealing a major setback to countries trying to raise the quality of their #humancapital. The pandemic has stressed students, parents, teachers and administrators.

Disruption does create opportunities for savvy players, and Covid-19 has generated many in #edtech , as education technology has been dubbed. There are predictions the global market for Edtech could triple to US$300 billion in the next 7-10 years.

There are lots of start-ups in  this part of the world that want a share of the expanding pie. Some will fail and some will successfully ride the technology wave and become unicorns.

In trying to pitch their platforms and products to schools, these firms face a complicated industry. Navigating it may be easier if they keep in mind several factors:   

First, know your limits. While technology is pivotal for boosting learning, it alone is not a panacea for the woes we see in the education sector rooted in human resource shortcomings, budget crunches, poor stewardship or other problems.

Governments of many developing Asian nations have done one thing right – get more children into schools. However, student outcomes in many of these countries have been stagnating, with so many graduates unequipped with the skills they need to get good jobs. Countries in the bottom half of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings have largely been stuck there for years. Edtech companies are not the silver bullet to solving the dilemma in the education sector, and that needs to be appreciated by all players as they seek out these partnerships.

Second, focus on affordability. It’s not a level playing field out there. In most countries, quality education continues to be the monopoly of the elite.

The pandemic has reminded us that parents do not want their children in front of computers all day long. Computers cannot replace the human face in the classroom, and children need interaction and friends. So schools are here to stay.

Whatever technology is sold to schools, it will eventually be paid for by the student. Therefore the gap between schools that can afford the right technology and ones that cannot will get wider. Unless Edtech can help reduce the cost of education, the market for them will remain a restricted one, accessible only by elite schools, a very congested sector.

Third, be aware and wary of unaligned agendas. In Asia especially, parties that have established schools include real estate players, pure financial investors, members of wealthy families and others. Many of these may have their own agendas that aren’t necessarily aligned with those of professional educators.

Decision around integrating technology is sometimes made less on a comprehensive digital strategy involving multitude of stakeholders but by a small group of privileged decision makers and sometimes worse on a “we need it because the neighborhood competitor has it” type of reasoning. That is why a lot of technology in some schools is gimmicky, fashionable, sadly disjointed and irrelevant to the school’s overall program.

Edtech companies must understand that it is the pedagogy that must drive technology, not the other way around.

Fourth, teachers really matter. As we chase technology, we must pay attention to the well-being of our teachers.

It’s the teacher who makes the difference between a great learning year for a child and a poor one. Today a teacher with a class of 20, 30 may be 40 young faces is not only asked to be an academic supervisor but also a coach and mentor for these young boys and girls. These teachers do it while under immense pressure from the school and parents, balancing many duties on their plate. The fact is online teaching brings our schools into our homes, and with that comes the tendency of parents behaving like they are “educational superintendents”, instructing teachers what to do.

Young learners need a great teacher in class, and our schools need technology that enables the educator to provide innovative and engaging learning experiences. Edtech companies need to understand the profile of this key tech user, the teacher and they must seek out schools that pay attention to the well-being of their teachers. Technology in the hands of a stressed individual may not result in the kind of student outcomes we all desire. 

Ultimately technology in schools is an enabler. But it can open up large opportunities not only to improve the quality of education, but the equality of it too. Edtech companies certainly have that power.