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What happened to the Caribbean’s EdTech revolution?

In a report published last year by the Inter-American Development Bank (“IDB”), EdTech in the Caribbean was described as “nascent”. Only around twenty or so EdTech startups are active in the region, which serve mainly K12 and workforce users. Some 50% of venture capital has flowed to workforce users. Prominent EdTech startups in the region include EduFocal, edupass, Emo-Haiti, Okus and Ubicua. These statistics beg the question – why are so few EdTech’s active across the region? 

A private sector online education expert explained, “Despite the push from Covid, there is very little EdTech happening at all. I think a lot of that has to do with capacity in terms of knowledge of maybe not so much educators but administrators and feeling tied to the old formal way. Some of it could be resources as well, at the school level because public schools are always strapped for resources no matter where you go in the Caribbean.”

“Despite the push from Covid, there is very little EdTech happening at all.”

A private sector online education expert, Caribbean 

In K12, school management systems, test preparation and tutoring support are evident, while in workforce, startups are serving language learning and professional development. Access to the internet is challenging for EdTech development in the region. While approximately 50% of the population has access, the geography of the Caribbean, with 7,000 islands makes connectivity difficult for many outside of towns and cities. That said, there are several opportunities for EdTech in the region including those that can be used offline or with intermittent connectivity, along with workforce upskilling.  

Despite plenty of opportunity, public sector technology investments in educational infrastructure have been lacking. Covid, which acted as a catalyst for change, thrust this reality into sharp focus. The pandemic forced more antiquated schools to establish licenses for MS Teams and other learning management systems that they were using.   

EdTech has taken the form of a public private partnership, but with some of the internet providers, their presence in the region can be best described as a duopoly including Flow and Digicel (telecoms providers across the Caribbean). They provided hotspots or WIFI in community centres, or special rates for teachers. But there is no system in technology infrastructural development in the context of education in the region. 

Even pre-Covid infrastructure development with technology has not been in the context of facilitating education. Although that might be the case for many Caribbean countries, it is not the case for all of them in terms of being resource strapped. However, there is little political will to do so – few regional administrations appear to fully understand the importance of technology as a developmental tool. They understand the importance of technology as a communication tool but those are two different contexts.  

A senior public sector educator explained, “The main challenge to integrating education in technology has been lack of connectivity for students and funding to acquire technological assets, which can initially require high capital investment. You have to keep in mind that we are so far behind in the region that even physical infrastructure is needed. Many schools especially at primary level are without even a computer lab, and the labs in many secondary schools are old and outdated.”

“The main challenge to integrating education in technology has been lack of connectivity for students and funding to acquire technological assets, which can initially require high capital investment.”

There is a high migration rate in the region for teachers – this is of greater concern than teachers losing their jobs due to fears that EdTech will make them redundant. Many developed countries place advertisements and seek out teachers in the Caribbean region, offering lucrative packages. Many advertisements offer generous relocation packages for entire families – few will return so long as the region’s education system remains a technological laggard.  

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