Boosting EdTech in the US: Lessons from Other Nations

Published on December 18, 2021

More than 50 million public school students and their teachers found themselves completely reliant on educational technology, or EdTech, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While EdTech provided workable solutions for remote and hybrid learning, it also revealed the drawbacks to how EdTech is developed, deployed, and optimized in the US. As the pandemic continues to affect US schools, EdTech applications utilized in foreign nations offer some insights on how US EdTech could be optimized.

How is the US failing with EdTech?

In general, EdTech refers to efforts to leverage technology to improve educational methods or practices for the purpose of enhancing learning. A well-known example of EdTech is Google Classroom, a free learning platform developed by Google to allow for the sharing of files between teachers and students. Google Classroom integrates with the majority of the G Suite apps, allowing educators to manage assignments, grading, and online meetings with students.

While EdTech tools like Google Classroom answered a critical need during the pandemic, Shane Quinlan, a Product Portfolio Director at Rise8, feels that they also revealed a flawed approach to EdTech in the US that needs to be revised.

“There are some great services out there for educational institutions, but any student or professor can tell you that products like Google Classroom and Blackboard are far from perfect and only solve some of their challenges,” says Quinlan. “With limited IT resources and a budget constantly under threat, educational institutions lean on vendors heavily, which unfortunately traps them with the solutions that do not do exactly what they or their staff, faculty, students, and parents need.”

Rise8 is a full-stack digital transformation firm that has a vision for EdTech in which universities as well as federal, state, and county school systems build reliable software with continuous delivery to meet their unique needs. Schools could own such platforms outright and make them available to other institutions, either through partnerships or open source software libraries, to share the costs and benefits. 

“There’s nothing more important for staff, faculty, and parents than the success of their students,” says Quinlan. “Letting poor software or vendor lock-in get in the way of that is a disservice to our education system.”

How is the world succeeding with EdTech?

Virtual classrooms and online systems for tracking assignments are two of the better known EdTech applications, but they represent only a small fraction of the ways in which technology is serving educational efforts around the world.

Sierra Leone is a country in West Africa that has struggled with providing a sufficient number of schools and teachers for its students. School officials there have turned to EdTech to provide data visualization tools that can analyze data on student distribution and provide a clearer picture of where resources are lacking.

Fab Inc., a London-based EdTech company that specializes in data analysis applications for the educational sector, assisted Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education in standardizing data formats and combining previously fragmented data sets in one central location.

By providing a framework and centralized dashboard for analyzing the data from annual school censuses taken throughout the country, Fab Inc.’s EdTech solutions are allowing officials in Sierra Leone to make better decisions on where schools should be built and how to assign teachers optimally.

The data visualization efforts being undertaken in Sierra Leone could provide an effective model for the US as it works to fix its teacher shortage, which has been made more severe by the COVID-19 pandemic. For years the US school system has struggled with developing an effective system for employing experienced and effective teachers where most needed. EdTech like that being developed by Fab Inc. could provide the US with workable solutions.

Another example of EdTech, which involves a platform developed by a school system in Sweden to give parents access to school information, provides a lesson to US school officials on what not to do. As reported in WIRED, a parent with children in the Stockholm school system became so frustrated with the school’s convoluted and confusing online platform that he developed his own. While the new app provided a streamlined interface for more than 500,000 parents, students, and school employees that could be used for free, the Stockholm school system took offense and demanded that it be shut down, threatening police involvement.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” says Quinlan, referring to the issues illustrated by the EdTech failure in Stockholm. “Rise8 saw similar challenges in the Department of Defense and refused to accept the status quo. With our learning culture principles, situations like the one in Sweden are totally avoidable. Engaging with end-users like parents, students, and educators can help to avoid the pitfalls of unusable applications.”

Educational initiatives being launched and tested around the globe provide US educators and administrators with ample case studies for how EdTech can be optimally applied. As the US educational system wrestles with finding effective ways to apply the financial resources provided by the American Rescue Plan Act, it would benefit from looking abroad for best practices on how boosting EdTech can improve the US educational experience. 

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Jay Feldman is an Osteopathic medical doctor and founder of Otter Public Relations, a PR agency with more than 35 employees internationally. Jay has more than 300K followers on social media and is the host of top business podcast, Mentors Collective. He is a contributor at Entrepreneur.com and has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider and other top networks.

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