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RefME CEO: the growth of edtech

Growth of edtech Growth of edtech
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Alan Levine

After shaking up the finance sector, London start-ups look set to change the classroom forever

It’s hard to think of an area of human endeavour or interaction that technology has not made more agile or efficient.

The rise of Fintech challenged the finance sector on everything from money transfer fees to loans, personal banking and investment.

Each disruption showed that nothing was off-limits, and that things shouldn’t be taken for granted just because “that’s the way it’s always been done”.

The result, arguably, has been a healthier marketplace with more choice and better products for customers, and a sector where established players collaborate with incumbents to improve standards.

In education, the growth of edtech has shown we’re now experiencing a similar convergence of factors that spell out a huge technology-driven shift.

Prominent EdTech investor Tory Patterson said in the Wall Street Journal that start-ups in this field have a huge chance to unseat incumbents due to the introduction of broadband Internet, mobile and social technology in schools.

The growth of edtech

“Teaching 2.0” and the growth of edtech means educators are quickly adapting to a classroom populated with digital natives who use technology for both work and play, often blurring the line between the two, making old methods a thing of the past.

This new generation of researchers has little patience for tools with steep learning curves, expecting them to be fun as well as useful.

This is a nothing less than a global revolution: Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun recently announced a move in partnership with Google to subsidise access to its courses in India, and GEMS Education, which funds edtech companies like Refme and supports several initiatives in the developing world through its not-for-profit Varkey Foundation.

Marc Boxser, Global Director for Strategic Initiatives at GEMS, points out that the recently announced sustainable development goals illustrate how many global education challenges still remain unmet.

“Around 250 million children of primary school age cannot read or write, and at current rates of progress, it will take until 2072 to eradicate youth illiteracy”.

The growth of edtech, he explains, is key to solving this problem: “Whether through virtual teaching, project-based learning or simple Internet access, right now Technology provides the greatest opportunity to make major leaps in education outcomes.”

Silicon Valley: The market is worth over $105bn globally and is set to grow to $400bn by 2020

So it’s no wonder that EdTech has gone from being something of an ugly duckling to a real contender for the centre stage when it comes to technology growth and investment.

Even Mark Zuckerberg is getting in on the action, recently backing Altschool -a start-up using technology to personalize education – and (together with his wife Priscilla Chan) investing in learning management tools start-up Mastery Connect.

And he’s certainly not alone; over $90 million was invested in US EdTech in August 2015, and many firms are setting up education-focused investment funds. In fact, depending on how broadly you define “EdTech” the total investment in the first half of 2015 already surpassed $1.6bn.

Yet the action is far from limited to Silicon Valley: The market is worth over $105bn globally and is set to grow to $400bn by 2020.

The UK education sector exports already contributes £17.5bn a year to the economy, and EdTech is worth an estimated £1bn of that.

Just like many of the world’s most disruptive companies in FinTech – TransferWise, Azimo, Funding Circle and Currency Cloud to name but a few – have sprung up in London, it seems that our “TechCity” is also the one to watch for emerging EdTech disruptors.

A recent report commissioned by the Greater London Authority asserts that London is “certainly the best place in Europe to start a science and technology business”

Unsurprisingly, investors are therefore keen to back companies that develop and grow innovative industry changing technologies.

Amongst the notable players in this field is Emerge Education, a 12-week accelerator programme bringing people from schools, universities and the education sector to advise early-stage start-ups and test their ideas.

One of its partners, Dan Sandhu, points out that, “In some ways, the UK is ahead of the US. We’ve got great pedigree, great technology, and a strong pedagogy. Rather than being at the end of a bubble, we’re at the beginning of a growth phase.”

Jan Reichelt, mentor and non-executive director at Emerge also believes the city is uniquely placed to foster technology companies in the education sector:

“London has demonstrated a European, if not global, leadership role in many areas of tech investment – most recently in FinTech – and I can see the first signs of this also happening for EdTech.

The combination of access to networking opportunities capital, and a very well-developed academic space will allow many other companies in the sector to flourish.”

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