Our digital economy is growing at a rapid rate and there’s good work going on across government to promote this success from organisations like Tech City UK and Tech North. There is also a growing realisation that there are new sectors developing that have the potential to change our lives, such as health technology, the internet of things and smart cities.
But it is education and learning technology (ed tech) that looks set to be the real jewel in the crown as teachers, education leaders and entrepreneurs build new approaches, tools and platforms across the learning spectrum. Ed tech supports great teaching, sharpens useful assessment, helps consolidate learning and opens up new worlds in literature, creativity and the arts.
A level of political upheaval in Britain after the Brexit vote may have dominated the headlines over the summer, but less visible have been the quiet but radical changes happening across England, Scotland and Wales in terms of investment in digital skills, digital curriculum and digital strategies, allied to the explosive growth of the British ed-tech sector, which is growing exponentially here in the UK and globally.
British education expertise has always been highly valued globally, with growing markets including China, the Middle East and now Africa and the developing world.
British educators, too, are seen as some of the most innovative and creative users and, tellingly, creators of education technology.
The UK is one of only five countries in the world which have a compulsory computing curriculum. The other four (South Korea, Israel, Estonia and New Zealand), interestingly, are groundbreaking in so many ways, but the UK is the world leader in exporting educational excellence.
There’s a proper and imaginative role for government here to enable, support and deliver long-term change across the education system.
Start-ups 'deserve investment'
British teacher entrepreneurs are creating amazing start-up businesses; companies that are now becoming “scale-up companies” and are trading across the world. Crucially, they are helping to tackle some of the biggest challenges in education from the ground up, and also, critically, creating new markets for Great Britain. They deserve not only attention but new investment.
Britain has the fastest growing digital economy in Europe and we’re also an entrepreneurial hub of the world. The talent and skills required to fulfil those jobs is coming from the UK education and skills system – from schools, colleges, UTCs, universities and also from on-the-job training in digital occupations that bypass the normal routes to employment.
There’s a welcome renewed commitment from the new secretary of state, Justine Greening, to new approaches towards greater social mobility, with the announcement of the first wave of social-mobility "opportunity areas".
Opportunity in a digital world brings new responsibilities for educators and policymakers alike.
'Shout about our success'
So why aren’t we celebrating this amazing success? Why aren’t we shouting it from the rooftops that British ed tech is world-beating, that we have such innovative educators, that our digital future is in our hands?
Is it British humility or a national cringe about the idea that we can actually be the best in the world ? Didn’t the Olympics and Paralympics this summer cure us of that?
It may, indeed, be more prosaic. No one has had the time to bring all of the key players in this fast growing “ed tech ecosystem” together – the educators, the policymakers, the start-ups, scale-ups and industry leaders – to achieve and maximise our national effort.
We know that growing a sector requires a national effort and new ways of working that cross the silos and shine a fierce light on old protective approaches and associations that want to maintain the status quo.
The Edtech UK Global Summit, being held on the 4 November 2016, is optimistic and celebrates Britain’s place in the world as a global leader of ed tech.
The summit sets out the steps that the sector itself needs to take to keep us on the front foot; but to also grow the sector for the benefit of the whole education system – not just the early adopters or the innovators. You don’t use the easy rhetoric of disruption when we need to consolidate and build a coherent evidence base.
Our Edtech 2020 Vision – previewed at the summit – consists of the following key themes that the industry needs to address to keep us on the global map and grow the sector:
The ed-tech sector needs to get much better at articulating what’s working, what’s not and what can be improved. There are too few tools available, and research is too retrospective and not responsive enough to rapid technological developments. We also need data on the scale and impact of the sector as a whole, in the same way that the cultural industries do.
There is a lot of data sitting in government, in education institutions and in technology products, platforms and services – this needs to be opened up and harnessed for school improvement, social mobility and to help support parent choice.
3. Jobs and growth
The ed-tech sector is already employing thousands of people but that could grow at a much more rapid rate. The creative and digital economy is the fastest growing in the UK but we need to sharpen up the pipeline of talent and skills into the sector.
We know that there are amazing developments happening across British ed tech, but for many reasons they are hidden away and rarely shared. We want to capture, nurture and celebrate the brilliance of educators who are using technology in impactful ways.
Ian Fordham and Ty Goddard are co-founders of the Education Foundation and EdtechUK