The EdTech: The new 'IT' sector

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It is clear that the health crisis we are experiencing with COVID19 has changed the way we work and learn. The digitalisation of the work and education realms has been seen as a quick, cheap and effective response to the crisis. The need for relevant and fast adaptation surely presented a fertile ground for tech sectors to flourish. This article will briefly jump into the fascinating world of Education Technologies and give an overview of the actual tendencies and opportunities of the sector within the ACP countries.

Edtech – a sector spoiled by the crisis

Changes related to the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution had already been taking place at the socio-economic level, impacting the labour market, creating new functions, new ways of working and, above all, requiring a whole range of new skills. The Covid crisis has only accelerated our adaptation to new management systems based on digital technology.

One of the new models being rethought is that of education, with new ways of training, teaching and assessing. Education has had to move partially or totally online during the two years of the epidemic, and it is certain that the hybrid approach that has resulted from our adaptation to the health situation will persist, as it has become permanently embedded in old working and training models.

For example, some well-known universities have been quick to offer training and certification courses that take place 100% online. Platforms such as ZOOM, MOOCS, Teams have quickly become indispensable in everyday life. We are also witnessing a proliferation of e-learning platforms such as Outschool, Coursera, Udemy or Kahoot! seizing the opportunity of e-learning as a new educational standard in times of confinement.

Initially, the growth of the Edtech market has been made possible through the proliferation of smart devices and the global deployment of internet connectivity.

From an economic point of view, while the EdTech sector is indeed booming, there are some ambivalences. The year 2021 indeed saw a record in terms of companies listed on the stock exchange in the global education sector (306 registered by 2022). The month of October 2021 recorded 1.76 billion funds, the year to date raises exceeding the whole year 2020.

However, the EdTech Giants are facing a considerable slowdown since 2021. Indeed, according to the HolonIQ report published in February 2022, the US side has seen painful losses for big players such as Chegg or 2U after a euphoria in terms of investments made (In October 2021, US EdTech companies alone represented 50% of the global funds raised in the month)

China, on the other hand, was facing an ultra-restrictive policy towards private educational institutions, which had a strong impact on the activity of Chinese start-ups.

However, VC investment in EdTech startups continues to grow exponentially, particularly in Europe and the US. The figures collected so far show a persistent euphoria towards the sector (see Key Facts)

In Europe, according to a survey conducted by the European Commission in 2020, 95% of the population surveyed considered the pandemic to be a turning point in the use of technology in education and training. More than 60% felt that they had increased their digital skills during the crisis and more than 50% wanted to improve them. In comparison, in 2013 schools in the European Union did not meet expectations. 63% of students did not have access to “a school with a good digital facility” even though 70% of teachers recognised the importance of using digital tools in the classroom. It is in this context that the European Commission decided to launch its Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027),
a (renewed) initiative to support the sustainable and effective adaptation of EU Member States’ education and training systems to the digital age.

In the same context, there is also the launch of the European EdTech Alliance, a “consortium of national trade associations and clusters working with founders and providers of education technology (Edtech), to support the domestic and international growth of Edtech and Innovation in education” (EdTechEurope).

Africa, meanwhile, is not left behind. According to Partech Partners, a venture capital fund specialising in ICT, the number of African startups with financial backing will grow six times faster than the global average between 2015 and 2020.

In Tanzania, Ubongo was the proud winner of the 2019 Next Billion Edtech Prize. The company, founded in 2013, creates fun and localised educational multi-platforms for Tanzanian families via TV and the web.

In Kenya, there is an extraordinary mobile penetration rate of 109% with individuals sometimes using two SIM cards. However, there is a low internet penetration rate of 40% with only 21.75 million users, a market that is still untapped for the “Silicon Savannah”.

A sector to make all kinds of geeks happy

EdTech is an umbrella term for a wide variety of different and even complementary technologies acting at the educational level. Among the most present sub-sectors are: Tech-Enabled Immersive Learning (e.g. Extended reality (XR)), E-learning, innovative homeschooling, Mobile-first learning, AI-enabled adaptive learning, gamification, …

Since we are now moving beyond direct interaction, EdTech technologies seek to involve participants in a different way. It is believed that these new technologies would make it possible to overcome the shortcomings of traditional educational systems, which are considered outdated and unequal in some respects. Edtech would instead allow for individualisation and adaptation to each individual’s learning. According to UNESCO, “e-learning makes it possible to remove certain obstacles to training” such as the lack of physical training structures (schools, learning centres, etc.), teacher training, learning tools (textbooks, exercise books, etc.), lack of inclusion of individuals with specific needs (disabilities, mental health, marginalised groups, etc.), distance between home and the place of learning, the cost of traditional education, and so on.

The EdTech industry offers various benefits like increased collaboration amongst students, 24/7 access to learning, personalized educational experiences, automated grading systems, classroom management tools and creating paperless classrooms.

Traditional education systems certainly have their share of limits and inefficiency and the Edtech seems full of promises. But how is the Edtech taking its place within the traditional systems? What new hybrid education systems are possible?

The Belgian development agency, Enabel, recognises the role of digital technologies as leverage to support the sustainable deve-
lopment goals throughout its programmes and portfolio. In its line of operations and core principle of inclusion, Enabel continuously supports the development of EdTech as defined as the use of educational technologies to improve the access, quality and continuity of teaching and learning

In this context, Enabel shares with us three Edtech projects whose training is intended for different audiences: In Morocco, the e-TAMKEEN project is designed to strengthen the (digital) skills of civil servants at central and local level to enable the digital transition of public administration services. In Tanzania, the project Let’s go digital! aims at providing vocational training through the app VSOMO developed by VETA (Vocational Education and Training Authority). a project that aims to make access to training easier for young people and women. The project is implemented by NGO Helvetas and financed by Wehubit through EU funding. In Guinea, the Kouyé application is a digital response to the fight against gender-based violence (GBV) and in support of the promotion of sexual and reproductive health (SRH)

Digital for Develoment (D4D)

The D4D, or Digital for Development Team of Enabel , offers strategic guidance and technical support to its partners in their search for an inclusive digital transformation and transition being essentially in the area of digital skills, digital rights, digital entrepreneurship, digital governance, digital service delivery. Enabel’s partners in digitalization come from the private sector, the public sector and civil society. One of the ways in which Enabel is involved in supporting D4D initiatives, is through the Wehubit programme, a program that follows the strategic note on digital for development established in 2016 which revolves around the 9 digital development principles (see box) In this framework, projects resulting from the Wehubit program, must follow those same principles as well.

Wehubit

Enabel’s Wehubit programme is a Belgian and European Union funded programme with a very specific focus on the scaling-up of non-profit and public initiatives using digital technologies to address societal challenges.

Arnaud Leclerq, programme manager in Wehubit explains:

“Through our competitive fund, we are able to look for other players and try to unders-tand how they use digital technology in the countries and sectors in in which we are dedicated. The idea of these calls for proposals is to recognise that others have other interes-
ting approaches and that we can draw inspiration from them. Then, for the established projects that we consider to be relevant and to have an impact, the aim is to strengthen them through funding and becoming member of our network. By scaling-up, we mean innovations that we think have already gone through a certain number of stages, that we think are fairly robust, and we want to support them in their scaling up, which is often challenging for the public sector or civil society because of absence of revenue-generating model or profitability behind it.”

The call for proposals within the EdTech sector launched by Wehubit was to address the effect of the Covid19 crisis on the education sector. Wehubit’s overall approach wishes to be prospective and sustainable over time, with projects that will be there to mitigate future crises:

“The main challenge was to continue access to education and quality despite a lockdown or future crises! Our approach is also based on human rights: how does the proposal received identify the actors who have a role to play in education, and how do these actors see their role strengthened thanks to the proposed solution” Arnaud Leclercq.

Risks related to the use of Edtech?

On the question of the risks linked to the total or partial insertion of digital technology in education, Capucine is positive:

“I would say that the private sector will have expertise, a technology that can also contribute to other actors and so the idea is to make it very clear from the outset how we collaborate and how we innovate because co-creation is also very important and that each one does not encroach on the other. Today, in terms of partnership sustainability, the private sector has to be integrated into it.
A partnership with NGOs is very different, they have a different mentality than the private sector, particularly in terms of the sustainability of a project or a business model. An NGO, after three years, will not necessarily try to maintain its project, they will look for another to set up. That’s why by combining the two logics we can achieve a very good balance.”

For Arnaud, the risk is there, but if you make sure there are safeguards in place, sustainable Edtech models can very well be envi-
saged without fear:

“That’s why we insist, among others, on the principles for digital development, such as interoperability, open source and open knowledge. If the solution comes from the private sector but is interoperable and certain principles are respected, then the risk is reduced, in terms of costs as well as techno-
logy and adaptation.”

These new models of education can be found below with three different projects aimed at very different audiences:

3 projects – 3 audiences:

Morocco – 2020:

eTAMKEEN: this programme seeks to provide Moroccan public administration services with a response adapted to the requirements of the reform and the changes it is facing. The aim is to strengthen the digital skills of civil servants at central and local levels for a more effective and efficient management of public services:

The eTAMKEEN programme, in agreement with the 15 beneficiary ministries and departments, is deploying a set of training courses related to digitalization.

This pilot programme aims to establish a model to be duplicated for the partner administrations, which will then be included in the eTAMKEEN capitalisation product.

The aim is to identify, analyse and collect the changes and experiences generated by the program, in order to produce shareable knowledge that administrations can use, adapt to their needs and make their own.

Halfway through its implementation, the eTAMKEEN programme is crea-
ting several platforms and tools related to the digital transformation of the Administration: the development of an eLearning platform dedicated to the Moroccan Administration based on an OpenSource component which is Moodle is an example of current creation.

Guinea – 2021:

Kouyé aims at offering a digital solution to facilitate the access to information, notably information on the rights to bodily autonomy and on sexual and reproductive rights.

The online application and website are an initiative resulting from the partnership between the Ministry of Health, Enabel, GIZ and You Foundation:

Guinea’s highly patriarchal society where violence might be deployed in various forms, the taboos, myths and societal rules related to sexuality in this country are an obstacle to sexual education and intergenerational communication. These practices encourage the circulation of false information, reduce access to Sexual and Reproductive Health services and lead to risky behaviour (such as early sexuality, unprotected sex, early and/or unwanted pregnancies, contamination with Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), illegal abortions and its risks and consequences, and school dropouts).

The application is intended to be as democratic and accessible as possible and tries to remove existing barriers to this topic (cultural and religious barriers)

In Tanzania – 2022:

Lets go digital! an initiative based on the observation that many disadvantaged young people, especially women and rural youth with low levels of education do not have access to vocational education and training. The VSOMO application, developed in collaboration with the mobile phone operator Airtel, seeks to:

Enable the acquisition of theoretical knowledge remotely as a first step after the theoretical part is completed, the users can go in one of VETA’s national training institutes to further complete their training through practical exercise.

Overcome the difficulties of distance and the high costs of education

The advantage is that it can train a large number of young people, especially in remote areas.

Develop gamification elements for at least three courses, including one on entrepreneurship

Unfortunately, the application has been little used so far, with several factors preventing its potential from being fully exploited: the costs (which can be still high for some users), the lack of attractiveness of the course itself (too static, lot of text, which makes them not easily understandable for low educated youth)

Sources :

  • App Inventiv
  • Commission Européenne
  • CPR Asset Management
  • Edtech Capital
  • EdSurge
  • Edtech World Forum
  • Enabel
  • Grand View Research
  • HolonIQ
  • International Monetary Fund
  • La Revue Edtech
  • OECD
  • Wehubit
  • World Economic Forum
  • World Bank