Until the pandemic forced the government to take a good hard look at remote learning, the edtech sector was largely left as a sleeping giant – let’s not send it back to bed.
Home-schooling has been an intermittent experience worldwide for the past year, which has made it something of a norm – albeit a disruptive one. Over 1.6bn students globally had their education disturbed throughout the course of the pandemic at the height of the first lockdown as schools were forced to close, according to UNESCO.
It’s an unfortunate fact that remote education comes with challenges. A key talking point has been the imbalance that students face, which varies depending on their home life: this includes everything from the living arrangements and workspace to availability of devices and parents. The Child Poverty Action Group detailed that many UK pupils were without laptops, printers, wi-fi and, in some cases, stationery in the March 2020 lockdown.
On the other hand, an Oxford University study has observed how screen time has increased among young children, particularly those from lower income families. It suggested more access to TV and touchscreen devices should be a cause for concern. This needn’t be the case.
Regardless of this upheaval going on for almost a year, remote learning is ultimately still unfamiliar territory that parents and pupils alike couldn’t have prepared for. From originally being told that the latest lockdown will be reviewed mid-February, new reports have suggested closures may remain in place until March or even Easter. Replicating the classroom and all of its tailored amenities at home simply isn’t possible given how circumstances in households differ drastically, so we shouldn’t overlook or demonise screens as a learning tool.
The BBC bolstered its education offering in direct response to the third lockdown, offering primary and secondary school student support across channels and platforms in a bid to help engage pupils remotely. If children aren’t in the classroom, it’s essential to help them learn in a way that’s fit for purpose. An increase in screen time doesn’t automatically mean a decrease in learning.
Growing up with dyslexia, I found reading incredibly difficult and so it was something I just wasn’t interested in until I discovered my passion for reading through comics. In the same way, not all children will be passionate about learning in their living room or hallway, especially if they have siblings that they need to share limited space or devices with. Therefore, it’s all about tailored teaching and meeting children in a way that works rather than attempting a generic one size fits all approach.
To my own experience of finding joy in reading comics, we as a society must collectively adapt the way we view what learning is. For example, Marvel Hero Tales is a game designed to blur the lines between the colourful entertainment that excites and engages children while simultaneously educating them. Variety is crucial to keep youngsters motivated, but even more so when they’re confined within the walls of their homes, unable to spend time with their peers. As a father of two, I know this first-hand.
Managed appropriately, screens present a chance to support education in a way that’s constructive and interesting. If this takes pressure off of parents during lockdown in some way, that’s even better. Learning through play is taught to infants at nursery and learning through screens can equally be used for children at primary school age and above – embedded learning in games isn’t something that’s championed enough.
The pandemic forced the government to observe and implement remote learning. But why did it have to come to this? Edtech isn’t a new phenomenon, startups have been innovating within this industry for years, many of which would have purpose-built solutions for schools and universities. Yet, the government has seemingly considered the pen to be mightier than the screen – until now that is.
A report from London & Partners and Dealroom pegged 2020 global investment in edtech to grow 15% on 2019 and hit $7.6bn. Breaking this down by country, UK edtech investment has grown by 4.4 times since 2014 and the UK has secured $1.1bn of VC investment over the same period, more than France, Germany and Ireland combined.
The numbers speak for themselves and the government must take heed of the way the market is heading. Edtech is a force for good, so it’s high time the sector gets seen as part of the big picture that will help the smooth reopening of educational establishments long-term. There is an entire industry that’s ready and willing to provide alternative support, not just now during the pandemic but in the future too – a sleeping giant has been awoken and we shouldn’t send it back to sleep.
Mark Horneff, Managing Director at Kuato Studios