I have just finished reading an article in TechCrunch entitled “Education Technology is a global opportunity” and it leaves me with many more questions than answers.
It is an interesting article … and yes, of course there is opportunity. But can the availability of investment funding alone be said to be improving education in the 21st Century?
As someone that has been actively involved in the electronic education and online learning market for 20 years, this humble writer predicts that the vast majority of funds invested in the West, are unlikely to be successful in meaningfully improving education. I also predict that 80%+ of those new education startups will fail as rapidly as the majority of educational software companies failed in the 1990’s.
And then we have the issue of risk. Innovating and improving education becomes even more potentially problematic if we demand the elimination of risk. Yet before the “educational establishment” is prepared to consider most anything new, they usually demand years of research to prove that there are benefits, and that there are no risks attached before being prepared to consider trial and implementation.
I am reminded of 3 of the most famous quotes that relate to risk and reward…..
… “The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.” — Goethe
… “A man would do nothing, if he waited until he could do it so well that no one would find fault with what he has done.” — Cardinal Newman
… “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” — T.S. Eliot
So there are 5 main reasons why I personally do not believe that investment funding alone will be responsible for successfully improving and innovating our current system of education.
1: Currently 90% of the new education startups offer products or services that do nothing more than provide “patch-ups” for a 250 year old system of education that continues to try and mass-produce education.
2: The 21st Century needs students to be educated as individuals AND more adequately prepared for employment with a balance of both academic and life skills. Employer research is telling us this. Are we listening AND understanding?
3: Most techies and tech businesses simply do not understand education, and technology alone is not a solution.
4: Education and educators are generally very conservative and few are trained or encouraged to be innovative. The system does not permit that, and proven research is the precursor for any change. Yet true innovation is never possible without some degree of risk.
5: The vast majority of Venture Capital companies and investors also appear not to truly understand education, preferring instead to rely on the strength of a 2 minute “elevator pitch” rather than considering the ways in which education may have failed them in their lives.
The billions of dollars they have been investing in Edtech in the last 3 years has been little more than a gamble in the hope of a significant financial reward. You only have to see the “about face” that the Bill Gates Foundation has recently made in their approach to investing in education – and admitted their mistakes in the directions they have taken in the past. The story about the “Gates Pivot” can be read here in The Education Week.
It is a very disappointing situation with over $3 Billion being invested in the US in the last 3 years, and less than a handful of businesses producing anything that is actually improving education whatsoever.
However there are a handful of individuals that do understand how education could be restructured and modernized to suit the needs of each student, 21st Century employers, and society as a whole. I have to ask why those with the investment funds are not proactively seeking those individuals out and supporting them, rather than often relying on the advice of “consultants” who similarly lack an understanding of the changes needed.
What do you think?
Is a factory-style approach to educating our young people still relevant in a time when we are seeking to encourage responsibility, creativity, self-motivation and innovation?