Education was a laggard in embracing technology – until the pandemic!

education technology edtech
Asian girl student video conference e-learning with teacher and classmates on computer in living room at home. Photo by Prasit Rodphan |

Education has been a laggard in embracing technology. In a matter of weeks, the pandemic changed everything. Students and educators worldwide were suddenly part of the largest online learning experiment. 

It is unfortunate that we needed a pandemic to usher overdue changes in our education system but we should seize this opportunity to leverage technology to help close longstanding equity gaps, personalize learning and empower students to use technology to tailor learning. 

There is a common perception that edtech is primarily used to nurture digital literacy. According to the Brookings Institution, innovative edtech can also develop literacy, numeracy and 21st-century skills such as creativity and collaboration. With knowledge just a click away, the role of teachers will change from those who impart knowledge to being a mentor and a coach.  Technology can relieve educators from their administrative chores and make them more student-centric. 

It is not just about schools. 

There is a pressing need to reskill and upskill our workforce in a digital economy and to make sure we stay relevant our life. But adult learning should not replicate schools. Focusing on user behavior design should be just as important as developing the technology.

We cannot separate the focus on education from technology in edtech. Good content is a must. Successful edtech applications must demonstrate how they can bring positive changes to learning outcomes. The science of learning will have to be an integral part of their offerings. 

Such insights were shared at the recently-concluded Edventures Global Business Acceleration Summit at CVCF where leading educators, investors and businesses shared their perspectives on the development of edtech globally and in China.

China is one the three edtech giants alongside the US and India. It attracted half of total venture capital funding last year – 8 out of the 14 edtech unicorns (private companies with a valuation higher than a billion dollars) hail from China. A digitalization index tracking the education sector has tripled over five years, according to Tencent Research Institute. 

Foreign players can look beyond the K12 market and consider teacher training, vocational training and soft skills development. In a competitive market like China, startups should tackle pain points that are not addressed by existing players. Successful edtech startups are those that have founders with strong vision and values. Unlike pure tech business, edtech companies are more labour intensive so investors need to be more patient. Whilst the desired return might take longer to materialize, the loss ratio is also lower. For investors with no prior experience, they can piggyback on experienced ones. Funding from diverse sources (mainstream VCs, family offices and foundations) and cross-border partnerships can be the future.

For edtech start-ups wanting to go global, Hong Kong serves as a good launchpad. 

London-based SuperCharger Ventures released a report at the Summit outlining Hong Kong’s importance as the regional centre of excellence for education and its role as a super connector. Hong Kong also has a reputation as a hub where good content can be found because of the concentration of renowned schools and universities. With their internationally acclaimed research capabilities, Hong Kong universities will play an important role in supporting, evaluating and validating edtech solutions. 

Ten growth stage edtech start-ups were awarded the inaugural ‘Edventures GBA Fellowship’. They presented their solutions at the Edventures GBA Summit at the Cyberport Venture Capital Forum. These include Israeli start-ups CoderZ Technology, which runs a virtual learning platform for STEM and robotics subjects, and Cybint, a provider of cyber security training for enterprises and youth. 

The Fellowship will give the start-ups a boost in their global aspirations by helping them get access to localization partners, funders, market entry advisors and opportunities to pilot their solutions in new regions. They will get to visit Hong Kong, Shenzhen and other cities in the Greater Bay Area next year.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” states an African proverb. Education is too important a subject to be left only to educators. Successful transformation of our education system will demand a fundamental change in the mindset of educators, parents and the community at large. 

It requires effective collaborations among a complex and interconnected web of players outside the classroom from policy-makers, education technology providers, funders, NGOs to the business community. NGOs play an important role as shown in the Brookings Institution study.

In the 21st century, it might take more than just a village. Thankfully, that’s possible now. 

Rachel Chan is Co-Founder of Esperanza, a Hong Kong-based NGO that seeks to channel community resources to support innovators with solutions to improve the way we learn, work and live in the 21st century.

Related article: India’s edtech startup Byju’s eyes $1 bn in revenue from home market

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