The rise of a new education and learning technology sector has begun. Characterised by innovation and growth, a greater focus on efficacy and impact; the engagement of grassroots educators, who are powering a demand for better products, apps and platforms; and solutions that solve real challenges across the education sector.

EdTech UK launched two months ago, with cross-government endorsement as a new strategic body, in order to accelerate the growth of Britain’s EdTech sector in the UK and globally. Our aim is to be a convening voice for the highest growth startups and scale up business who are looking to take on the world, to support educators and teacher entrepreneurs who have great ideas but no support or route to market, to work across Whitehall and UK governments to support strategy and policy that helps grow the sector for jobs, skills and growth, and to bring great companies to the UK from around the world.

The education and learning technology sector contributes more than £1bn to the UK economy each year and in the past few years has created some of the most dynamic startup and scale up companies in the world. From Raspberry Pi to Futurelearn, from Kano to RefMe, from Technology will Save Us to Blackbullion. And there are now over 1000 EdTech startups of all sizes in Britain ready to take the education world by storm.

Yet despite this huge success, there has not been an organisation to champion the sector’s growth in Britain and globally - to connect this accelerated development into skills and jobs on the ground, and most importantly to help turn this success into improved educational success and the achievement of young people in schools, colleges and universities across the UK … until now.

Since our launch we’ve run two trade missions – the first to Israel which despite being a small EdTech market is one of the global hubs for entrepreneurship and has an EdTech research centre that’s 40 years old and linking cutting edge academic research with learning outcomes and new products. The second is to New York where radical reform of schools in the city has led to significant innovation and the creation of the IZone – a large group of schools where EdTech is being tested and trials conducted to enable tech to tackle the biggest challenges facing the school system. It’s this kind of approach as well as access to new burgeoning markets that we are supporting and how the sector will accelerate.

Back in the UK, we have also written a guide to the new computing curriculum launched at the Mayor of London’s education conference in November. A critical element of the shift in technology in schools in England has been the introduction of coding and computational thinking into the mainstream curriculum and the government should be applauded for this. But the wider challenge is to get greater engagement from senior leaders in the use of technology to support school, college and university improvement of teaching and learning, to use tech as a tool for positive reform and to position it as a mechanism to support efficiency and improvement rather than as a bolt-on extra.  The new government are very positive about education technology, but not the old world of technology evangelism and futurology, rather digital pragmatism that the new world demands. 

Another area of development for the future is the rise of the teacher entrepreneur and we are keen to find new ways to support British and global entrepreneurs who are still working in the classroom to develop their ideas. Close to 30 per cent of the top companies in the US who were invested in last year had a teacher or educator as a co-founder and if we want innovation in the system we need to support those who are closest to the issues and to the solutions. Our EdTech Incubator programme has already supported great teacher led startups such as Timestable Rock stars developed by secondary teacher Bruno Reddy, to Dream Learners developed by primary teachers Lucy Rome and Deena Wiseman and Hegarty Maths was recently shortlisted for the Richard Branson’s Global Startup prize.

"Technology is a powerful tool in extending and creating opportunities for young people. The launch of EdTech UK is a positive step towards increasing the effective use of technology in schools, helping all pupils to develop the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in our modern economy.” - Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education

A key challenge has been EdTech startups and scale ups with little visibility to investors, teachers and education leaders not having access to the most innovative ideas to tackle challenges in their institutions, investors with a lack of knowledge of future trends and the market potential for EdTech and policy makers distant from the potential to use technology to deliver reform and innovation. So what are we doing to tackle this challenge?

Firstly, EdTech UK will fly the flag for British EdTech startups, take their ideas around the world and grow their presence in markets that can capitalise on Britain’s world class education system. We already know from government that that education exports are worth £17.5bn to the UK economy each year – we want EdTech to become a significant part of that equation.

Secondly, we want ‘Edtech’ to be more visible – and go toe to toe with fintech, medtech and in fact any other tech! Education technology has a major USP as it’s the only tech sector with a direct link to schools, colleges and universities and can therefore play a major role in tackling the digital skills gap. It’s also a major growth industry with a market worth $105bn globally and set to grow to $220bn by 2020. And back in the UK, with a new generation of computing and digitally literate students and teachers - there’s a once in a generation chance to make Britain an edtech capital of the world.

And finally, EdTech UK will be a “front door” to investors, government and educators, building on the success of organisations such as Innovate Finance in the financial technology (FinTech) sector and MedCity in the medical technology (MedTech) sector.  In a sector that too often has been isolated and fragmented and dominated by business as usual, we will bring together startups, educators, industry partners and investors across the spectrum of: technology in schools, colleges and universities, e-learning and e-assessment, infrastructure, corporate training and learning, digital making, digital skills, lifelong and informal learning.

 

I’m proud of what we’ve achieved so far but the journey has only just begun. We look forward to putting EdTech in Britain on the global map. www.edtechuk.com