Future EdTech: To Be or Not To Be

Startups for schools

Most people don’t realize or even think about what goes into being a school teacher. Beyond the classes they are teaching there are mountains of reports, professional development and even arranging extra excursions or camps for students. Automated algorithms, mobile applications and computer system-helpers would greatly simplify the life of teachers.

Lev Breslav, teacher and former vice principal, explained some of the obvious issues related to a lack of modern technology in educational establishments. The most obvious is the poorly designed web sites used by Russian schools. This issue could be overcome easily by designing an intuitive site, together with a helpdesk that could provide technical support to users of the site.

There also doesn’t exist, in most school, a unified database of all the services that a form teacher might need to refer to when organizing various extra-curricular activities for students. The database could include tour agencies, companies that organize hikes, as well as a list of various medical centers. It would also be helpful for teachers and students to have access to sites that show a complete list of the various competitions students could be involved in and information about how to apply to different universities.

Teachers also need a tool to automate report writing and other documents. Although there are many potential online applications that can be used, teachers still most often use excel, so there’s obviously something lacking there. Libraries can also have an electronic barcode system, and the school cafeteria could use e-wallets.

Mr. Breslav believes that “educational applications for smartphones are essential.” He’s not referring to computerized tests but rather interactive tutorials, using animation, graphics, video and other visualization tools that help explain the material. “I have an example of two applications that have implemented this feature, and I use them in my lessons and the students find them really interesting.” This is an opportunity where both programmers and teachers can collaborate together.

Clearly EdTech projects are needed at schools but funding for this is a challenge, as such it seems that the best approach for implementing the latest technology is from the grassroots, distributing them directly through teachers and students, and not through official channels, i.e. top down.

Post-school education: imagine that you are already in the future 

How will the educational sphere develop over the next five years? Nikolai Mikhailov, vice-rector for educational activities at ITMO University says that “Many investors believe that EdTech is a huge step, yet few are actually investing in this field.  It’s not clear yet if it’ll take off or not. Although positive trends have already been observed.

Gamification is one such trend, as is augmented education, which implies on-demand studies using virtual reality technology. Experts predict that these technologies will be used in 2017-2018. With the rising tide of new devices, educational apps will need to be made for AppleWatch and GoogleGlass

Mr. Mikhailov also made several recommendations for aspiring entrepreneurs. He advised them to use non-existent technology in their designs. This means that startups now have to predict what kind of technologies will be developed and to create applications that will help people slide into the future with ease. He went on to say that "We are on the verge of something bigger. The atmosphere in the market is similar to the early nineties, before the emergence of the Web. If you lived then and knew that there would be the Internet, what would you have developed? Probably an indexing system, a search system. And today there are things like neural interfaces and neural networks. Think about what additional functions will be necessary for these technologies? What will be the requirements of that time?"