According to Mark Roelofsen, international manager of the British Educational Suppliers Association (Besa), UK suppliers have been relatively slow to look at export possibilities.
The attraction of Singapore has been the exponential growth of ICT in its schools, coupled with its position as a stepping-stone to a huge Asian market. Exports to other countries have been patchy. North America, for example, hasn't developed into the export gold-mine that such a huge English-speaking market might seem to be. Most of the software suppliers make at least some sales there, but progress is steady rather than spectacular.
"People want to go too, but, although it's a big English speaking market, it's so fragmented," says Roelofsen, who has been, "banging the drum," about export possibilities, and leading delegations to other markets. There's also government support through the "Trade Partners UK" initiative. The real key, he says, remains the quality of UK software: "It's content rich and curriculum focused."
Besa's other line of development is to help overseas people to come to BETT. "We've encouraged the British Council to run the BETT study tour; to select people who may be able to influence ICT strategy; to come o the UK; to visit Becta, the QCA, the DFEE and a day and a half at the BETT show. There'll be people from 30 coutries at BETT this year, including Brazil, Turkey, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Poland, South Africa, Montenegro."
The next step for many suppliers is into other parts of Asia, a move for which Singapore has been a springboard and a source of experience. "The latest news is that there's just been a Besa sponsored trip to China," says Mal Hilton, "They're just starting to concentrate on education. It'll be a more difficult nut to crack. All the product will need to be localised, but there's terrific interest in our titles and there are between 800,000 and a million schools."
It won't end there, either. Dick Fletcher, of science software specialist New Media - already selling in a number of markets, including France, the US and Scandinavia - believes that there's a potentially huge worldwide market that the government and the British Council might well work on. "Surely in every country in the world now," he says, "politicians are telling civil servants that they have to computerise schools. The civil servants will be wondering how to do it, and here in the UK we have a lot of the answers."