Some of the conclusions may not come as a surprise in the Omidyar Network’s report on what works in scaling education technology in different regions worldwide. Governments, educators, advocacy groups and companies large and small need to work better together. Long-term planning and investment in infrastructure for widespread and improved access to the internet and mobile devices is critical.
But what may surprise some readers of the report, released Monday, is what the United States can learn from developing nations when it comes to bringing together all parties interested in edtech. Take Chile, for instance. By many measures, the country’s education technology ecosystem is small. Chile has “little private capital for new business ventures,” according to the report, and an edtech market valued less than a percent of the $9 billion U.S. market.
And yet, Chilean education expenditure as a percent of GDP (5.35 percent) still bests the U.S. (4.99 percent) and China (4.10 percent). Chile has more mobile cellular subscriptions (127 per 100 people) than the U.S. (122) and China (105), plus a higher percent of internet users (82 percent) compared to the U.S. (75) and China (54).
The report—prepared by RTI International and produced by the Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment arm of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam—doesn’t explicitly say the U.S. should copy Chile. But the report praises the South American republic for an online platform managed by the central government to help schools choose and buy edtech products and services from approved suppliers. This in turn helped the Chilean edtech ecosystem by helping edtech companies scale and subsequently invest in smaller markets.
“In the USA, EdTech product catalogues are either too complex for many teachers to use, not objective or comprehensive enough, or not based on credible user reviews (which often have more weight than experimental evidence or product marketing),” states the report, crafted from over 100 interviews with educators, policymakers and entrepreneurs, conducted from September to December 2018.
No country studied by the report had a perfect way for educators and entrepreneurs to connect on product quality. Even Chile’s Mercado Publico was only updated with new suppliers every four years.
The report praises governments worldwide for setting standards for school achievement that can help spur the development of edtech ecosystems. China’s Education Modernization 2030 Policy and Ten Year Development Plan for ICT and Education 2010-2020 are among government initiatives named that intend to improve the country’s education in the long run.
Extending access to education technology beyond schools is also key. Whereas the U.S. and Chile governments have focused on “school-based computer labs and classroom devices,” the authors write, “China and Indonesia rely heavily on more recent advancements in mobile technology and affordable mobile data, allowing them to create access at home and promote the large-scale use of EdTech for learning and test preparation.”
Across the countries examined in the report, data emerges as one common issue critical to laying the groundwork for creating a more transparent and connected marketplace. For that, the authors commend the work of Project Unicorn.
The initiative supports interoperability, which refers to the ability for different education software, platforms and systems to work with one another. For now, this remains a work in progress, as many tools are still not compatible when it comes to sharing and analyzing data.
This can result in a hodgepodge of tools that are disconnected, which can make managing them more expensive for schools and using them more difficult for teachers and students. The report commended school districts for increasingly demanding interoperability from vendors, but also recommended that the industry agrees on set data standards.
“Connection to other systems of these proprietary models could be costly, time-consuming, imperfect, or impossible” in the U.S., says the report. “Lack of interoperability also made data analysis across systems difficult and can hinder the implementation of personalized learning … Government education officials should be aware of total cost of ownership issues related to data and hardware interoperability and strive to set standards for investment to optimize.”