Out with the old school? The rise of ed tech in the classroom

 There was a time classrooms were a bastion of tradition, dominated by blackboards, chalk and textbooks. But the rapid evolution of technology means there’s a need to advance how education is delivered to young people. Schools now spend £900m on education technology every year [£], and it is estimated the global market will be worth £129bn by 2020. It’s making a difference – the 2017 consumer digital index [pdf] suggests that 97% of those aged 15–24 in the UK have basic digital skills – a 4% improvement on 2015.

Among the emerging “edtech” ventures are those helping teachers tackle subjects such as maths and English in a more innovative way. Kahoot!, the top education app on the UK and US Apple app stores, launched in 2013 and now has 50 million users every month. Teachers can create their own games and quizzes on the platform, or choose from a long list of existing games, which are displayed on a shared screen – an example might be a timed quiz based on multiplication tables, learning about flags, or questions about the water cycle. Students participate on their own devices and can earn points and challenge other classes in different locations. An estimated 830 million players have used the app for education purposes, and it’s also growing in popularity with businesses who create their own interactive training sessions. Kahoot! has raised $26.5m (£20m) in investment so far, with backers such as Microsoft Ventures.

Technology is helping teachers cope at work too. With a heavy workload contributing to the recruitment and retention crisis in teaching, Firefly Learningfounding partner Simon Hay says automating some of the paperwork helps teachers concentrate on what they joined the profession to do – teach. From facilitating video feedback, lesson plans and marking online, to helping teachers share resources, the platform is essentially an intranet that connects teachers with each other, as well as with students and parents. The tool is now used by more than a million people around the world.

While many startups focus on schools, others recognise that education in the 21st century doesn’t just rely on the classroom. Tech Will Save Us supplies its toys – which children build and bring to life through electronics and programming – to thousands of schools but also sells to customers directly through e-commerce and deals with retailers like John Lewis and Maplin. “The world of learning and play are becoming closer together and are becoming more integrated,” says CEO Bethany Koby. “That’s the area we focus on.”

Working with schools will become easier as tech-focused millennials move up the ladder and become the decision-makers in the education sector, says Yacob. “The teachers themselves are extremely passionate and really understand what the problem is, how to solve it, what tools they want, where to get them from, but the system they are in is still a little bit slow,” he says. “So while you find receptive teachers they still have barriers to achieving what they want.
 “Eventually those teachers that are now coming into the workforce are going to be the future directors of schools and able to make decisions. They will already have come to the workforce with this attitude of disruption.”