According to the United Nations, the education of 94% of the world’s student population was affected by Covid-19, particularly those in low and middle-income countries. These interruptions paved the way for the boom of educational technology (“edtech”) companies to step in and fill the gap but as the pandemic subsides, what has stuck?
Edtech products and services aspire to improve student outcomes but face multiple challenges at social, policy and business levels that can derail their operational plans. Edtech start-ups still need to face both teacher and student resistance to change which requires a personalised ecosystem.
A digital learning expert felt the market was still emerging, “Even after several years of Covid-related lockdowns forced educators to adopt some form of educational technology, very little has been integrated properly. Most teachers still only use generalist software products like MS Powerpoint or Google Classroom but there are a plethora of specialist platforms available for lesson planning, lesson delivery, assessments etc.”
“Most teachers still only use general software products like MS Powerpoint or Google Classroom.”
Digital learning expert, Brazil
Despite this surprisingly poor adoption of edtech, in 2021, edtech companies generated 4,500 new jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean and, in the last decade, companies in the sector raised USD 1 billion in 500 founding rounds, according to a joint report of the Inter-American Development Bank (“IDB”) and HolonIQ, an impact intelligence platform. Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina led the creation of edtech initiatives in the region.
However, these new platforms are yet to address social challenges which include improving their offering to merge seamlessly with in-class learning in order to preserve a social environment and group learning. In Latin America, edtech developers, local authorities and infrastructure companies require deeper coordination to overcome socioeconomic disparities. For example, the World Economic Forum reported that 43% of the population in Latin America has no or very limited connection to internet. A public sector education consultant in the Caribbean confirmed, “Many children still do not have access to the internet, so I would say that education in the region has taken several steps back due to the lack of availability of even basic ICT needs being available to all students. Some children have even dropped out of school as a result of the new digital divide and a lack of connectivity.”
“Many children still do not have access to the internet, so I would say that education in the region has taken several steps back due to the lack of availability of even basic ICT needs being available to all students.”
Public sector education consultant, Caribbean
Beyond infrastructure, there are other barriers to the adoption of edtech. “A major challenge,” explained an edtech entrepreneur, “is that the technocrats and politicians in Latin America tend to be older: digital immigrants not digital natives. They are not comfortable with technology and think it is only useful for communication or maybe submitting a report.”
The edtech entrepreneur saw tertiary education as the best opportunity for edtech in Latin America, “I think the students 16 and above are the ones that really understand what edtech is and are still motivated to adopt it. Younger than this requires it to be teacher-driven and that will always take longer because they cannot do what they do not know.”
Overcoming these hurdles would ease the burden on teachers and allow students the best possible access.