Written by Matt Glotzbach, CEO of global learning platform Quizlet
“Artificial intelligence will transform the education system.” “Immersive technology will reshape learning forever.”
These are just some of the industry rumblings about how edtech will disrupt and ultimately “fix” what’s wrong with the education system.
The truth is, that technology alone isn’t the answer. As the CEO of a consumer learning technology company in Silicon Valley, perhaps this is an unconventional stance to take, but not as the father of two school-aged daughters. The issues affecting the educational system, are budget constraints, staffing and training gaps, and lack of material resources in many regions — are complex. A tablet, laptop, or the next hot social learning app isn’t the solution.
We’ve gone so far down the innovation rabbit hole that we’ve overlooked the fact that technology is only as strong as the people driving it. Study apps are great resources for learners, as they help students stay inspired and engaged. However, without a motivated teacher who has the time and resources to effectively integrate these technologies into their classroom work, the tools themselves can only go so far.
We need to bridge the gap between technology and human capital, in order for these two sides of the coin to succeed in helping students receive the education they deserve.
Fortify the Foundation
Let’s start with the obvious — teachers must be properly compensated and equipped. In the UK, there have been ongoing threats and conversations about strike action, in a campaign for higher wages and improved classroom conditions. Most recently a suggested 5% pay rise has been seen as a slap in the face by experienced educators with wages falling painfully short of economic growth and what is seen to be fair in an industry that is highly demanding, year-round.
It is not only in the UK that schools are feeling the pinch, some school districts in the US are going as far as opting for four-day school weeks to conserve money – a concept that many students may be thrilled about, but that has a considerable ripple effect on both parents, who need to figure out childcare options, and teachers, who need to readjust their lesson plans.
It becomes a catch-22 – without the proper financial support, teachers are inevitably less able to invest their time and resources into more effective methods of teaching. For instance, in a recent survey conducted by Quizlet, asking students about their current state of mental health, despite the fact that over 60% of university students surveyed said that they have faced challenges with stress and anxiety, almost 40% struggled to access the mental health resources provided by their academic institution during their time at university and as many as 21% had no access to any mental health resources whatsoever. This gap in support being provided by institutions proves the strain that is on not only the institutions but also the students, who have already had a tough time of cancelled exams, remote learning, and school closures.
As a member of the tech industry, it’s essential to ensure that barriers don’t prevent educators from using reliable resources and digital learning tools, such as free and affordable platform subscriptions and apps that can be accessed on personal hand-held devices and computers. Of course, these tools are only as good as the educators who put them to use, so once equipped, then what?
Keep Up With the Changes
Step two in bridging the gap between technology and human capital is educating the educators. In 2021, the global education technology market size was valued at $106.46 billion and is still expanding. The goal of most edtech providers is to not only help students, but to also provide teachers with seamless ways to engage and share knowledge with peers, students, and parents – as evidenced by platforms such as Google Classroom and Apple ClassKit.
The onus is on us in the technology industry to provide teachers with the means to understand and apply these digital learning tools. That requires an investment in training programs, conferences, webinars, boot camps, and more to boost teachers’ confidence and keep them competitive in the digital learning age.
In the future, we are going to see the global economy propelled by advancements in technology, and that will trickle down to the classroom. For example, artificial intelligence-powered software will be able to create specific content for students’ personalized learning plans so they can master subjects more effectively. As AI and machine learning change how we approach student learning and measure success, let’s ensure that teachers are keeping up. After all, teachers spend anywhere from 600 to 1,000 hours a year with their students, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Edtech should, and does, enhance traditional classroom teaching. However, it takes a village to educate our children. Investing in technological innovation is great, but we need to similarly invest in human capital—educators in schools. Without focusing on supporting teachers on the front lines in the classroom every day, it doesn’t matter how many billions are invested in edtech. The learning environment won’t succeed. People have to come first.