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Game Changers in Tech: Education

As the debate rages on over whether schools should be reopening this Autumn, education and its links with health have come to dominate the news cycle in recent months. Nowhere was this clearer than in the UK’s debacle over A-level exam results, in which a flawed algorithm using flawed datasets produced inaccurate, biased results almost wholesale for an entire generation. 

This was the first major example of algorithmic bias directly altering the life chances of thousands of people, striking at the heart of how central – and dangerous – technology has become to the way we deliver and assess education. It was also the tip of the iceberg: parents, teachers, and the government are still at loggerheads about how education can best be delivered and life chances maximised during the pandemic. 

For many, edtech is the obvious answer – including investors. 2020 has seen a record number of buyouts of edtech companies. So far this year, there have been 13 buyouts and funding rounds for startups worth more than $954 million USD, according to data from Tracxn Technologies. It’s a sign that the changes to education brought on by COVID-19 are likely to become permanent facets – rather than temporary blips – in the knowledge economy.

Both teachers and students have been forced to adapt. Many educators were forced to quickly learn the ropes of Google Docs and Zoom conferences to deliver lessons during the lockdown to pupils at home. Young people, meanwhile, overwhelmingly report increased levels of anxiety and stress, and it’s reflected so heavily in their educational attainment that the British government will not publish any school or college level performance data based on tests, assessments, or exams for 2020 – essentially suspending, if not abolishing league tables.

On the one hand, then, education has seen the rapid proliferation of remote learning tools that were already on offer for both school-age and adult learners, but not as widespread. The role of platforms like Youtube in giving the nation PE lessons, or online learning sites such as Udemy, is undoubtedly here to stay. But this is also opening up new space for some radical applications of tech to education that could transform the sector forever.

Take Immersify Education. They’re a Salford-based edtech company building immersive augmented reality tools for universities. Their first app, released earlier this year, provides a personalised learning experience for dentistry students. It combines 3D renderings with expert content, professional voiceovers, and gamification mechanisms to help students learn the curriculum from a distance. 

 “What was a gradual shift has now become an overnight expectation for the ability to study remotely,” Chloe Barrett, CEO and Founder of Immersify Education, told Prolific North. “Universities are very keen to maintain the high standard of content they can provide during contact hours, but the content that is readily available online isn’t aligned with their curriculum and is often from questionable sources.” 

Immersify is just one example of the augmented reality revolution underway in education. But while these can be powerful tools for individual learning, they do not provide a systematic rethink of what education means outside of institutional settings. globalbridge is a start-up built by teachers which provides a single digital record of achievements to allow young people to showcase their full range of experience and talents. It goes beyond exam grades, helping institutions, employers, and apprenticeships gain a full picture of individual talent and opportunity – in the process, removing legacy barriers to achievement faced by many entering the workforce. 

Right now, technology is being used to plug the gaps in education created by the global pandemic. But it’s also laying the groundwork for a structural rethink of what it means to learn, to achieve, and to grow.

June 2020

#LTW

June 2021

#LTW