The adoption of technology in education(EdTech) has forever changed the teaching and learning journey for students, not only positively, but with huge potential for immeasurable growth both inside the four walls of the school and without.
Educational technology is the combined use of computer hardware, software, and educational theory and practice to facilitate learning. When referred to with its abbreviation, EdTech, it is often referring to the industry of companies that create educational technology.
An edtech innovation ecosystem refers to the collaborative efforts of key stakeholders to develop, adopt, and scale new products and services intended to improve teaching and learning.
It may be assumed that an EdTech ecosystem already exists if one must go by the definition above, but how conscious of its existence are the stakeholders in the light of pressing challenges confronting the EdTech industry?
Globally, on a daily basis, we witness increasingly successful technology-driven innovations. Regardless of whether we cater to kids and young adults who appear to have been sidelined by the educational system or expand engagement and performance by permitting more customized learning and approaches to teaching, there is no doubt that technology will keep on playing an undeniably critical part in the advancement of our educational system. Regardless, do we have the conditions for this change to occur on a large scale?
Also of great importance, how reachable and equitable will technology be to all teachers, students and the classrooms?
Worried about lethargic and steady improvements in education results in Africa, and the absence of scalable, equitable technological answers to these difficulties, we should be more circumspect in ensuring that a functional ecosystem for innovation and technology is activated.
Aware of the fact that technology can be as successful an instrument for worsening educational imbalances for what it’s worth for lessening them, an EdTech ecosystem deliberately initiated would seek to ensure best practices for the industry and create the enabling conditions and considerations that are of critical significance in guaranteeing that technology is utilized properly, dependably and for the greatest benefit.
There are certain realities that must be confronted with an active ecosystem for the EdTech industry for the occurrence of equitable expansion.
What are the challenges and opportunities for EdTech?
Regarding opportunities, Africa as a young and growing market has little or no competition. With a young population of over 200 million desirous of learning, the potential is boundless. Potential clients flourish, from people that need to improve their skill sets, learn English, or require learning engagements that fit their needs and schedules, to schools, organizations, or government offices that are going through digital transformation to ensure that students and workers who require digital tools can be rapidly and proficiently provided, thereby enhancing their performance.
Over and over again, the most talked about and consistent challenge faced by EdTech remains financing. For the EdTech community, funding is a real challenge as funding options are few, access to capital is very limited, and philanthropic capital is almost nonexistent. Government and/or foundation grants are also scarce.
For a sector just evolving in Africa, stakeholders and members of the ecosystem must be deliberate in their actions to ensure that this issue of financing is adequately addressed. This is because even when some level of funding is available as early stage capital, accessing such funds is usually tied to impact, which for EdTech organizations that are oftentimes startups, is an impossible requirement given that rigorous assessments require scale, deep technical skills, and are costly to execute.
The absence of skilled talent is another frequent challenge faced by the EdTech community. Skilled talent in this case involves people with the appropriate technical abilities and also, often, English language skills to enable them to deliver on the assigned task as it is due. It is a fact that the pool of technically skilled workers is not only scarce but in high demand; EdTech’s find it difficult to recruit and retain such top performers in a very competitive market. It is even harder to do.
A few EdTech’s that try to work with schools or students have noticed that large-scale execution and effect can only happen through a partnership with the public school system. Shockingly, they are blocked in these endeavors in light of the fact that, from their perspective, national and state governments don’t have any vision for utilizing technology as a tool for development in education. Some government officials don’t see the value of EdTech in the classroom. This has a wide range of repercussions and outcomes: absence of guidelines and strategy rules, difficulties in establishing long-term partnerships, and exceptionally lethargic deal cycles, among others.
EdTech’s also face difficulties in the sales process as they make efforts to increase revenue to a level where they can be financially stable. The overall absence of awareness about the advantages of digital solutions and abilities whether inside or outside the classroom is a challenge for sales representatives. This restricts marketplace activities and openings for clients to get information and feedback about organizations and digital products.
Given these holes and bottlenecks, it is obvious that numerous new companies realize that learners, teachers, and administrators have a limited ability to utilize technology properly and in imaginative ways to increase learning.
What Is the Value of an Ecosystem?
Why build an ecosystem for EdTech? By contemplating the entire system, partners move away from attempting to tackle issues in an isolated manner or challenges pertinent only to individual players. All things being equal, they begin attending to the critical basic conditions and drivers fundamental to EdTech solutions’ success from all angles.
The structure consists of four categories:
EdTech Supply and Business Models, which is concerned with having funding options and business models that are viable.
Education Policy and Strategy, which acknowledges the importance of a clear vision and strategy for EdTech. This should be from the highest level of the education system with policies and regulations to match it.
Human Capacity, which recognizes that technology as a standalone cannot resolve the challenges in education and critical to confronting this is capacity building among stakeholders.
Enabling infrastructure involves making physical access to connected devices and services possible seamlessly.
With technology, there is an unlimited potential for accessibility and improvement in education. For social innovators, their involvement in creating marketable solutions scalable in sustainable ways offers numerous opportunities. However, all these are practically impossible without the enabling ecosystem that will activate growth.
Putting such an environment in place will require two things. In the first place, making or taking on a system to comprehend key variables in the ecosystem and how they cooperate, and which gives a reasonable image of where things stand and recognizes the principle factors that obstruct progress. The force of such a system, likewise with other theoretical structures, is that it tends to be applied across nations and settings to make qualifications, define thoughts and focus on activities.
Second, it will be basic to advance a functioning discourse between key partners to create and organize activities to work on the ecosystem. Considering that the motivation behind the structure is to distinguish connections and associations among players and institutions inside the EdTech ecosystem, building natural and significant trades between these stakeholders is a significant initial move towards not only having but improving the operating climate for all.