Will Google take over the classroom?


PHOTO/Erin Lubin/Bloomberg/Getty Images/CNBC

Silicon Valley types say that with enough data, they can ‘fix’ education. Where are the teachers in this grand edtech plan?

‘We look at education technology as one of the great hopes of the British economy.’

So said Liam Maxwell, digital czar to the British government, at the inaugural Global Summit of the edtech industry late last year.1

‘When I say “open door” I mean it,’ he stressed to the audience at London’s City Hall. ‘We have an open door on policy.’

November’s celebratory summit was sponsored by Google and had no fewer than five UK government departments represented. It showed the scope – and ambition – of the burgeoning edtech industry, a term that covers businesses that produce everything from digital tools for teaching, testing and tracking pupils to platforms and operating systems on which whole schools are run.

Britain is betting on education as a growth opportunity for its technology industry – and it is not alone. Edtech is now a global trend. The US has set the pace, but countries as disparate as New Zealand/Aotearoa, Chile and India are also pushing their edtech industries. Australia is another that has plans to use technology to significantly increase its share of the global education market.

Global spending on education is currently around $5 trillion, yet only a tiny fraction is delivered digitally.2 It is, in Maxwell’s words, a ‘target-rich opportunity’. It hasn’t gone unnoticed, for example, that ‘51 out of 54 African countries are committing huge amounts of money to the use of edtech and ICT [information and communications technology] in their education reform programmes’, as another civil servant at the Summit noted.

Three months later, these same government departments were duly going all out to promote Britain’s edtech offering at the Education World Forum, at a conference centre opposite Parliament. Another joint venture between government and industry – this time led by tech giants Microsoft and Hewlett Packard – it hosted education ministers from more than 80 countries to discuss future policy, mostly in private, including ways to encourage teachers to get on board with technology.

Ministers were then ferried across London to sample first-hand the technology that promises to fix their school systems and transform education, at BETT, the UK’s major edtech trade show.

The edtech-reformers

The global edtech lobby tells a great many stories about why technology must be used to ‘transform’ education: how it will equip children with vital 21st-century skills; solve the problem of pupil disengagement; increase equality; ‘personalize learning’ in ways never seen and free up valuable teacher time.

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