POLITICS & INSTITUTIONS - EUROPE

Op-ed

European Commission supports European EdTech to come of age



Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, pictured at an EP Plenary session, says “EdTech faces a number of challenges to consolidate its position in the evolving digital education ecosystem in the EU.” ©EU

Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, pictured at an EP Plenary session, says “EdTech faces a number of challenges to consolidate its position in the evolving digital education ecosystem in the EU.” ©EU

EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel says that it is time for the public and private sector to deliver on the vision to make EdTech a key driver in the European digital education system.

Times of crisis often favour innovation and creativity.

In the education and training sector, the home-schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic brought the potential of technology for education onto everybody’s radar. As the Russian war on Ukraine started, the children displaced from Ukraine needed to continue their schooling, which sometimes involves digital means as well. And there have been many other, different factors, which all contributed to the fact that in Europe, over the last two years, Education Technology (EdTech) has been coming of age.

EdTech is the use of software and hardware for education and in the classrooms: tablets, interactive screens and programmes, robotics kits, online content and platforms. It also means new ways of learning and increasing initiatives into how we can best teach people of all ages new knowledge and skills. We all know how quickly technology is evolving. The EdTech sector is evolving just as fast.

EdTech demands technical know-how but also creativity. And I am very proud that Europe is willing to lead in this field.
 Mariya Gabriel

 Mariya Gabriel  EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth

And there are some really impressive developments: in 2021, Europe was one of the fastest growing regions on the global EdTech scene. It was the year in which the first so-called EdTech unicorn emerged, a private company with a valuation exceeding $1bn. And by mid-2022, the total investment has reached more than $7.5bn.  

EdTech demands technical know-how but also creativity. And I am very proud that Europe is willing to lead in this field.

The EdTech sector has also proven how solidary and values-driven a business they are: During the pandemic, companies opened their EdTech services free of charge to learners, teachers and educational staff. They did so again for Ukrainian refugees. The New Ukrainian School Hub, which gives access to education resources for displaced learners, is an EU co-funded initiative that I stand strongly behind.     

And still, EdTech faces a number of challenges to consolidate its position in the evolving digital education ecosystem in the EU. Fragmentation across national markets and cultures, or difficulties to build effective partnerships with ministries, schools and universities are only some of the hurdles EU EdTech entrepreneurs face today.  

Time to deliver on bold vision

In July 2021, I set up a group of European EdTech companies to understand the industry and its needs better. During roundtable discussions, we exchanged thoughts on experiences since the pandemic, on the state of EdTech in the EU and on possible avenues for further cooperation.

The outcome was a common vision the sector created for its future, presented during the first Digital Education Stakeholder Forum I hosted in March 2022. It is a bold vision. And I believe that now is the moment for the sector to act upon this vision and deliver.

The first and crucial step is to prove to those teachers and learners who still doubt the quality of many EdTech solutions. EdTech tools are not an extension of entertainment software. Pedagogy and learners’ needs come before commercial success. They can lead to better education processes and outcomes, they truly can prepare learners for success in our digitalised world.

While I am a strong believer in the potential of EdTech, I do not expect this young sector to complete its journey alone. As outlined in our Digital Education Action Plan, driving European digital education forward should not happen in isolation. We need everyone to be on board and we need a high-performing digital education ecosystem.

That is why I decided to continue the roundtable discussions with European EdTech with a third meeting on 8 November. For the first time, we addressed the topics of quality assurance and effective public-private partnerships, and how we can tackle these challenges together. 

Extra efforts are necessary to ensure good and smooth cooperation between public education systems and private companies
Mariya Gabriel

Mariya Gabriel EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth

Let me share some of my takeaways.

First, when developing their tools, many European EdTech companies assess schools’ official curricula to see how they can best support the attainment of learning objectives through their tools. This is very smart and welcome. But to close the loop it is then important that EdTech companies also follow up on the impact of their tools. Have they been as effective as hoped? This can be assessed through graduate tracking, and by collaborating with research institutions on measuring the learning outcomes in the long-term.

Second, extra efforts are necessary to ensure good and smooth cooperation between public education systems and private companies, especially when they are start-ups or SMEs. Both sides can benefit greatly from working together, but I realise that it is still a bit unusual. Things have simply never been done this way. I am confident that over time, we will be able to build an environment of trust, transparency and innovation. 

Funding programmes

And we are not starting from scratch. Good practices such as joint creation, continuous collaboration, and procurement targeted at EdTech startups already exist. They pave the way to expanding cooperation and building partnerships.

It is clear, addressing these topics is essential to move forward and I welcome the commitment of the EdTech companies I met. The success stories are already there, but I have understood that we need a more coordinated and ambitious approach.

And I am committed to help.

We have various funding programmes in the EU that offer opportunities to the EdTech sector. With Erasmus+, the EU flagship programme for education, we will support the sector as of 2023 with funding opportunities to EdTech projects that form effective public-private partnerships. And Horizon Europe, for example, proposes funding the sector to take its solutions even further through the European Innovation Council and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

The journey of Education Technology is only starting. And I am very much looking forward to being there along the way, offer support and admire how their creative and entrepreneurial spirit will drive the journey of education towards quality and inclusion for all in a not-so-distant future.