The World’s Rapid Response to School Closures

And where that puts the UK

COVID-19 forced 188 countries across the globe to shut down all schools, affecting the lives of almost 1.6 billion children and their families. Schools were given no choice but to reimagine education overnight by migrating to a completely virtual or hybrid teaching model. For those that were fortunate, technology was the tunnel that allowed children to remain connected to education. 20 years ago this may have been unimaginable.

Total number of affected school learners due to school closures across the world, Feb-April 2020

Experiences differed from every scale. Many factors came into play, such as level of resources, training to teachers, funding. Some schools were able to plan, strategise and execute an effective remote teaching plan almost instantly. Others struggled and adopted better strategies as they were thrown into the deep end. The truth is, without this unexpected “live testing”, schools would have taken much longer to embrace the power and potential of good technology. This article looks into different parts of the world to recognise how their education departments responded to the drastic change in schooling following the COVID-19 outbreak.

Percentage of students that had access to an effective online LMS

The table above shows the percentage of students that had access to an effective learning management system. This adoption may not have been instant. It was sometimes blended with other learning methods to bridge the gap caused by school closures.

In Japan and the Republic of Korea, the ministries partnered with private providers of educational content, in order to give students free access to the extensive library of learning resources.

Some continued learning through radio and television. In Tanzania, Ubongo’s educational program streamed content for children aged 3–12 both on TV and radio. Ghana’s education services also responded by launching lessons for children through Ghana Learning TV. They also went on to launch reading lessons in English and other languages via Ghana Learning Radio.

Pakistan was the fifth country in the world to close all schools from the end of February 2020. Approximately 74% of households own TV’s, and 76% own mobile phones. In May 2020, Google Pakistan launched “Read Along Bolo” (Bolo — to speak) as one educational response to the pandemic. They also had access to a range of learning management systems such as “Knowledge Platform” (Singapore based) and “Sabaq & Muse”, which was another EdTech organisation that promoted e-learning in Pakistan.

EdTech Headquarters around the world

At the top of the list is the United States, which account for 43% (1,385) of all EdTech Headquarters. This is largely due to the population size, the growing economy, and the technology hubs for innovation such as Silicon Valley. Billions of dollars are being invested into the United State’s EdTech sector.

The US are excelling in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). AR creates simulated images or figures in a real environment. Pokemon Go! is a great example of AR. Using VR or AR in the classroom can mean students could potentially “experience” places around the world. Google Expeditions has already begun developing and distributing this technology in schools.

The countries next on the list include India (327), Brazil (275), United Kingdom (245) and China (101).

Asia

Asia have the fastest growing EdTech market, mainly in China and India.

This is due to the following:

  • A large population that consists mainly of young people.
  • An emphasis on education. Asian countries traditionally have the drive to provide a superior education and parents are willing to pay large amounts of money for their students’ education.
  • Foreign investors have also been contributing large amounts of money into the EdTech market in Asia.

Based in India, “BYJUS” has the highest amount of capital raised. Having received $969m, it was valued at $12bn in November 2020. The next two EdTech giants that follow are in China (Yuanfundao with $544m and Zhangmen with $499m).

The United Kingdom — The “Hyper-accelerator”

The EdTech sector in the UK grew by 72% in 2020, largely due to the pandemic. There was an exceptional growth in augmented reality (+119%), SaaS platforms (+57%) and digital classrooms (+65%). These findings are based off a report by global recruiter Robert Walters and data provider Vacancysoft — EdTech: The Hyper-Accelerator.

Overall the demand for EdTech surged to £3.5bn this year, from tools that support digital classrooms. One of the reasons for this rapid increase was capital and funding. Investments climbed to 91% in 2019, as they received the largest portion of EdTech funding in Europe. Forecasts depict that this will continue to rise at an exponential rate throughout 2021.

However, the catalyst in this surge has been COVID-19, which has forced the UK to embrace remote technology almost overnight. Despite this situation, the UK is still in its early days of adopting education technology into the classroom, compared to the United States and China. Research shows this is widely due to limited teacher training given for newer technologies.

While EdTech in the UK is currently excelling, the question is whether the speed will remain constant once all Schools are fully open. Will AR become increasingly popular? Or will they start to use EdTech for blended learning, to support both in class and remote education?

Holdback on EdTech development

We live in a digital era, where technology surrounds us. The new generation of today (Gen-ZBorn from 1997 to 2012/15) are beginning to learn how to code as part of their School curriculum. 10 years ago, this would have been unimaginable. Soon they will become more tech savvy than many of us. But this was inevitable as Gen-Z were born into a world where devices were given to them at a very young age. So what stops us from introducing better technology into the Education sector? Surely Gen-Z are skilled enough to adapt to new technologies? Or is it the Schools that hold back?

Infrastructure plays a key role in EdTech development, and some countries are more fortunate than others. Reliable electricity and high speed internet are the basics for remote learning. Many poorer, undeveloped countries do not have sufficient funding to support students and invest in EdTech at the same time. But they have intelligently made use of their resources through TV, radio and more. Many organisations provide free tools and technology to facilitate remote learning in undeveloped countries.

Learning-related technology outside the school should be a civil right, alongside food, shelter and education itself that is available everywhere and always to everyone as a universal entitlement. It should be free of charge to those who need it.

Another holdback for some is willingness to embrace EdTech. According to research, many teachers prefer 100% in class learning and would avoid using technology if they could. The pandemic has forced educators to quickly learn and adapt to new tech tools. Pressures on IT departments increased as teachers needed more help when running into technical issues. Some teachers therefore believe that tech can often become a hindrance and take up more class time than being beneficial. In light of this, EdTech companies need to develop simpler solutions that need little to no training for both teachers and students.

Where is EdTech going in the UK?

The EdTech market was valued under £1m in 2018. It is now expected to surpass £4.6bn in 2021. As mentioned earlier, the pandemic has been a hyper-accelerator, a catalyst and a living example that Schools need a lifeline.

In 2019, the UK Education department published a strategy to support the implementation of technology into Schools. This strategy began with expanding access to high speed internet to all Schools. The next step was to provide necessary professional development for teachers to enable more effective use and application of technology. Of course the pandemic accelerated this strategy and plan, and we hope that 2021 is a positive year for Schools and the Education department.

The pandemic may have been the greatest living test of whether schools could continue teaching remotely. Now as schools open, the future of technology in the classroom is questionable. Scientific knowledge about COVID-19 is constantly evolving. There may be recurring waves which may result in rolling school closures. The point is we can never be certain of what the future holds. Whatever the blocker may be, education must continue. Education authorities must be prepared for the unexpected as learning should never stop.

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