Ed-Tech Surges Internationally–and Choices for Schools Become More Confusing

Associate Editor

More companies than ever are vying to add their instructional software to classroom computers in markets around the world, creating an unwieldy and even overwhelming array of choices for schools, said Mike Fisher, an associate director at London-based Futuresource Consulting.

His market research company, which tracks ed-tech trends in 40 countries, sees consolidation of digital resources for schools in the U.K. But he said the ecosystem is “a bit of a mess” in the U.S., where a proliferation of ed-tech is causing an overload as some districts often have as many as 20 enterprise platforms for administrative tasks—from student information to human resources and finance—and more than 100 or even 200 web-based classroom applications for learning.

“We feel a divide is developing between the pace the industry is moving at, and the pace end users are moving at,” he said in an interview. On the implementation side of ed-tech, “usage is low,” he said. “I put that down to the complexity of the ecosystem.”

(A recent EdWeek Market Brief analysis looked at what districts and states are finding as they track the actual classroom usage of various products.)

Fisher shared an overview of the international market at the Education Business Forum in December, and expanded on his views in a conversation, which we are summarizing here.

Among the other international ed-tech developments Fisher is watching:

Mature Markets for Devices: Fisher identified several areas where there is a high penetration of student-to-technology ratios in schools; the U.S., Canada, Scandanavia, the U.K., Australia and South Korea. For example, in the U.S. at the end of 2016, about 29 million mobile computing devices are available for about 61.7 million public school students and teachers, he said.

Expanding Markets: Two economic powerhouses that have been laggards in technology for schools—Germany and Japan—are now making major investments, Fisher said.

Germany—where only about 5 percent of classrooms are connected—is investing $5 billion euro in technology for schools over the next five years, Fisher said.

“The central government has never had a central initiative” for ed tech before, he said, and both major parties support it. “They’re looking at connectivity, infrastructure, devices for teachers and students, professional development and consolidated access to open education resources.”

Japan has announced plans to invest the equivalent of $6.7 billion through 2020 in technology for teaching and learning. “It’s unclear how it will be used,” Fisher said, “but it’s in the budget.”

France is also making a major investment, with a national roll-out of technology in its secondary schools.

Centralized Platforms: In the U.K., Capita SIMS commands about 85 percent of the student information system market, he said. With a centralized platform, the country can simplify its online services by adding them to the hub as “bolt-ons” of technology for parent communication, financial payments, human resources, and data analytics. So schools use SIMS Agora (for financial payments), SIMS InTouch (for school communication), SIMS Discover (for data analytics) and SIMS Personnel (for human resources management).

In the meantime, only about half of U.K. schools have a learning management system, he said, and they have to find the funds themselves, rather than access a centralized procurement system. On the other hand, a company called Show My Homework, which provides homework management online, is used by nearly one-third of U.K. schools, he said.

In the U.K., it’s essential that ed-tech wanting to break into the market connect with key resellers who have ministry contacts. “If you can’t, forget it,” he said.

Denmark is choosing a few key platforms that will anchor future ed-tech development, Fisher explained. Companies can integrate with and build to these anchors, according to Fisher. “We’ll see where that goes,” he said.

Regions with Centralized Purchasing: Whether they’re buying hardware or major software, countries where procurement decisions are made by a central authority include Uruguay, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil. They also include Middle Eastern markets such as the United Arab Emirates, Fisher said.

For suppliers looking to expand internationally, securing work in markets with centralized decisionmaking can get you to scale, he said. “But you need to make sure you have the right partner, who has the ear of the buyers.”

At the Same Time, the dramatic drop in oil prices has impacted many budgets in the Latin American market, he said. Exchange rates have fluctuated significantly as well. These two factors mean “national deals are very hit and miss” in current market conditions, he said. “You’re looking at ‘hail mary’s’ in a lot of areas,” trying to reach out to 4,000 individual private schools that buy and have a budget.

PISA Impacts Decisions: Fisher said governments around the world closely monitor how their students score on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA study, which measures student performance in 72 countries or economies.

The assessment is designed to evaluate the quality, equity, and efficiency of school systems, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which sponsors the test as part of its goal to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. Results of the most recent survey were released in December, reporting on test outcomes from 540,000 15-year-old students in the OECD member countries and economies. Singapore outperformed the rest of the world in the survey, and the U.S. scored in the middle of education systems in reading and science, but below average in math.

Chinese Companies Taking Off: “The Asia/Pacific market will become increasingly important as an ed-tech consumer in the short- to mid-term,” Fisher said. And the three biggest technology companies in China—which go by the acronym “BAT”—are ones to watch in the school market beyond the Chinese borders, said Fisher.

Baidu, the largest website in China, is an internet search provider similar to Google. Alibaba is an e-commerce platform that is considered the Chinese equivalent to eBay. And Tencent operates WeChat, an instant-messaging application, and it hosts games.

“Tencent has launched an LMS,” said Fisher. “If you look at these companies’ size and scale, it’s massive.” As they become involved in education delivery and platform, they should be watched, he said.

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