A History of EdTech in Finland

Marcus Sheehan & Neil O’Toole

EDvisor Finland bridges Ed and Tech by putting pedagogy at the core of EdTech. We have identified and researched the core factors and capabilities that integrate EdTech into existing practices and ensure its longevity. We provide 1:1 consultancy with EdTech startups in terms of pedagogy and content. Focussing on the incubation stage of EdTech, we are partnered with Finland’s leading EdTech Accelerator xEDU and EdTech export certifier, Education Alliance Finland.

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In 2018 there were over 80 EdTech startups and 150 established EdTech related companies in Finland, a significant achievement from small beginnings in 2013. This article unpacks the factors behind this success story and how a country of 5.5 million people is able to punch well above its weight globally.

The success story of Finnish education is rooted in broader factors in Finnish society as a whole. Finland’s harsh climate necessitates resourcefulness on the part of its people. This coupled with the historical preservation of its language under centuries of occupation has embedded a love of literacy and learning within Finnish culture and society.

Finland’s geographical location has also required its people to learn foreign languages in order to integrate into the European and Global economy. To this end, education has always been seen as critical to the success of its economy. As a result, there has been long-term and consistent public investment in access to education, teacher training, infrastructure, public libraries and school buildings.

As the successful EdTech products in Finland have been teacher-driven, there’s a clear understanding on how to take an idea, implement it into the classroom using the correct pedagogy. Yet what we have also seen are EdTech products that may look great, yet have minimal pedagogy behind them. The tasks required are completed with little engagement, meaning boredom sets in quickly. This leaves the teacher with another EdTech product that won’t be used again to attain learning goals. Many teachers in Finland are very enthusiastic when it comes to EdTech in the classroom but many have also encountered products that don’t deliver, which has seen their eagerness for EdTech diminish.

In recent years a number of new initiatives have changed how EdTech is ideated and incubated. Since 2016 KYKY Living Lab, operated by the City of Espoo, co-creates Edtech with schools and startups, with a 2-way process of development involving all stakeholders. Forum Virium, Helsinki’s Smart City project, created an EdTech incubation model in 2018, which gathers challenges from schools for EdTech Startups who design products to solve these problems and pilot them in classrooms using a ‘rapid experimentation’ model..

In 2018 Oulu EDULAB expanded its undergraduate EdTech incubation into a Masters in Educational Entrepreneurship, which fuses the fields of education, technology and business to create EdTech prototypes to be pitched at EdTech X Europe.

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From our experience, we see that the most important initial step for an EdTech product is setting the learning goals. This creates the structure to any EdTech product which will forge the correct path towards how it will be implemented and the pedagogy that will surround it. We’ve come across many EdTech products that have needed to backtrack and use massive amounts of money as their learning goals weren’t strong or weren’t used to structure their EdTech product in the first place. We are working closely with xEdu and Finland’s Smart Cities to get EdTech companies to start thinking from day 1 of incubation what are their learning goals and how will students learn these. Using our own EdTech Factors, we support companies in deciding the balance of capabilities that their product will have. This exercise has a critical impact upon technical features just like curriculum integration and pedagogy impact market segment and sales.

It is clear to us that there is huge potential for pedagogy-driven EdTech globally. However, working 1:1 with individual companies has limited impact in terms of putting Ed before Tech before Capital. Over the course of 2019-2020 we will be scaling an EdTech Incubation Process that will be pedagogically-driven: ‘EdTech 4 EdTech’. This will be a gamechanger for EdTech innovation, not just in the Nordic-Baltic region but also globally.

Collaboration has been at the cornerstone of Finnish Education and the rapid emergence of its EdTech scene. This, together with a focus on pedagogy, bodes well for its future and with the establishment of an EdTech Finland body in May 2019, means that its ecosystem will produce even greater impact in the years ahead.

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