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The path being paved by generation edtech

Cléo Fatoorehchi

Cléo Fatoorehchi is responsible for producing content and liaising with journalists at BESA, the British Educational Suppliers Association, which represents over 300 educational suppliers including manufacturers and distributors of equipment, materials, books, consumables, furniture, technology, ICT hardware and edtech to the education market. Cleo started as a women’s rights journalist before migrating into PR, in a child rights charity and then in higher education at Universities UK International. Find her on Twitter @CleoFatoo, tweeting about feminism, education, edtech and more.

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Images above courtesy of suppliers below. Images above courtesy of suppliers below.

As technological advances are racing in what some believe to be the 4th industrial revolution, they open the door to the most innovative educational technology (edtech), and the Bett Show was an impressive demonstration of this.

The companies and start-ups exhibiting at the Bett Show showed two main uses for edtech: answering schools’ needs in helping teachers teach, and helping children acquire “21st century skills”.

The 21st century skills were at the heart of the first speech that Damian Hinds, the new secretary of state for education, delivered at the Education World Forum, ahead of Bett. Championing “workplace skills”, he said: “The hard reality of soft skills is actually, these things around the workplace, and these things around character and resilience are important for anybody to achieve in life, as well as for the success of our economy.”

Hinds mentioned the importance of the government’s new Computing curriculum in ensuring children get “beyond the ability to use apps to the ability to write apps”, he said.

Learning to code

At Bett, at least two exhibitors were companies that do just that: make coding accessible to children in a fun, engaging way.

MAMA.codes was exhibiting under the Bett Futures banner, which gathers all the new and exciting companies. And indeed, it has an exciting proposition, since its programmes are based on the premise that children can code before they can read. As such, MAMA.codes teaches coding as a language to children as young as 3-years-old, with great success.

SAM Labs picks up where MAMA.codes stops, with children of 7-years-old and above, and brings in a physical element to its coding programmes. With four ingenious little blocks, children can see and touch, in real time, how their coding is affecting the block, a very physical object.

These companies are laying the building blocks for a digitally-proficient society, in which “we are able to make technology work for us”, as the secretary of state envisions it.

MAMA.codes (left) and SAM Labs (right)

Edtech to the rescue: how it can help teachers every day

Most of the other companies exhibiting at Bett were proposing variations to using technology to help teachers save time, or make science more engaging, or deliver a more personalised teaching approach. Among them, a few stood out.

Vocal Recall - This app allows teachers to record audio to stickers that they can then place on students’ work. So simple, yet absolutely revolutionary. Also a Bett Futures exhibitor, Vocal Recall was the talk of the town throughout the show, with its stand constantly buzzing with interested visitors.

Teachers who have already been using the app report being much happier as the app allows them to save time on giving detailed feedback, to which students actually listen to – and even act on!

ClassHug, by the Hug Group - While learning outside of the classroom is a crucial activity in a child’s education, it can quickly become a nightmare for the teachers. The Hug Group has devised its ClassHug app to help mitigate the risks of taking children on day trips.

It only involves a beacon on each child, and an app on the teacher’s phone; an alarm will go off if the child starts wandering off. Again, it’s quite a simple idea, but has the potential to be ground-breaking in that it lets the teacher focus on the learning instead of doing endless headcounts.

ReallySchool, by NetSupport - The award-winning company NetSupport launched its new product, ReallySchool, at Bett, and it will certainly be a game-changer. The simple-to-use tablet app offers a flexible approach to capturing observations in the classroom, which is essential since Ofsted now requires evidence of skills acquisition for Early Years Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 children.

The app gives teachers the opportunity to use photos to support their observations of the children, along with pre-populated lists of all of the points of academic expectation for each year group, which saves teachers time.

Vocal Recall (left) and ClassHug (right)

Collaboration is a key 21st century skills, at the individual level but also between groups and companies

The last two disruptors that came out of the Bett Show were EDUCATE and the Rocket Fund.

EDUCATE is a unique project bringing together entrepreneurs and innovators, with academics, researchers and educators, to deliver world-class edtech products and services. Based at the Knowledge Lab, at UCL’s Institute of Education, EDUCATE is match-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and UCL’s partners: UCL Engineering, the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), Nesta and F6S.

By working together, these organisations are opening up the doors of edtech to new actors, from all horizons. For example, one of the companies involved with EDUCATE is Chatterbox, which offers language training while playing a role in solving refugee unemployment. Rocket Fund is another project that connects people to multiply the positive impact of edtech. Using crowdfunding, it is a platform for teachers to pitch for the technology they need in their classroom, and for businesses to help these teachers and bring about edtech to children who would likely not have access to it.

Chatterbox (left) and Rocket Fund (right)

These projects reflect the shift in society towards becoming more ethically focused - echoed in the rise of corporate social responsibility departments in big companies - brought about by the demands of the Generation Z. As this generation is now coming of age, with many of them already mastering the soft skills so needed in our digital age, it will be fascinating to watch how else our society changes and adapts.

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