Since the onset of the pandemic, we at NordicBaltic.Tech, a partnership between the Nordic Council of Ministers and PUBLIC Denmark, have reported on key trends in EdTech. In this article, we look at the insights gained from lockdown and the potential conditions for continued innovation in education in the Nordic-Baltic region.
Startup successes: spring term solutions and summer schools
Lockdowns launched a necessary transition to remote education and for many schools, this has been a process of trial and error. While few have advocated to eliminate the physical classroom altogether, the promise of blended learning has become clear. Startup successes include learning platforms such as Oslo-based Kahoot, which recently raised about $28 million in new equity. Over the summer, Lithuanian students may benefit from digital learning platforms such as Eduka. Finally, due to increased recognition of the importance of digital literacy, EdTech startups such as Code Academy kids are also well-positioned to offer their services. All in all, it appears that this digital leap has propelled EdTech into the mainstream.
Lessons from lockdowns: accessibility and connectivity
So what does research actually tell us about the impact of lockdown and subsequent EdTech solutions in schools? One Danish study found that ‘quiet’ students working from home may have benefited from fewer distractions. On a global level, however, concerns have been raised about a growing digital divide. Existing inequalities among students may be amplified during lockdown due to inadequate hardware, insufficient pedagogical support and limited internet access.
In the Nordic-Baltic region, this issue of connectivity is largely mitigated due to the strength of current digital infrastructures. According to the Digital Economy and Society Index 2020, Finland ranks highest on 5G readiness, and Denmark and Sweden have the highest scores in the Connectivity dimension overall. In this respect, the region presents a successful model for digitalisation of education. Increased investment in digital infrastructure elsewhere may even present opportunities for Nordic-Baltic EdTech startups to enter new markets. Finnish startup, Kide Science, recently raised €1.5 million of seed funding with ambitions to expand in Asia in particular. Other companies such as Danish CanopyLab have promoted digital education globally since inception.
University students: tuning in – or dropping out?
Even for universities with strong online capabilities, much of the appeal of higher education remains in the physical realm. Although many universities in the Nordic-Baltic region have reopened, some will rely on partial distance learning in the fall. Exchange students are also faced with the dilemma of venturing abroad into countries where mobility restrictions remain in place. To mitigate a potential surge in drop-out and delay, universities and EdTech startups will therefore have to reshape the educational experience. By bringing labs into virtual environments, companies like Danish Labster are bringing high tech learning facilities into the digital domain. Meanwhile, Estonian Tutor.ID matches students with tutors to facilitate 1-1 online learning without borders.
While students in the Nordic-Baltic region may have the privilege of physically returning to campus, concerns about career opportunities and student job instability are likely to persist. For vulnerable and international students in particular, fewer opportunities to socialise may result in increased risk of loneliness. Mental health services such as those offered by Norwegian No Isolation may therefore have equal relevance in the semesters to come. Student wellbeing tools such as School Day may also prove useful at all levels of education.
EdTech & cyber security – a dual demand
The surge in the demand for EdTech solutions brings with it an increase in cyber security risks, including account takeovers, data loss and classroom and learning disruption. In order to prevent a backlash on EdTech, compliance will therefore be key for long-term success for providers. To strengthen cyber-resilience, startups such as Estonian-founded RangeForce facilitate cyber security training on a scalable, cloud-based platform.
EdTech solutions, combined with mental health services and increased cybersecurity, may see students through the crisis and its immediate aftermath. During this period, startups in the Nordic-Baltic region may continue to demonstrate the added value of digital tools and platforms, both at home and abroad. By harnessing innovation and adopting these new technologies, schools and universities may enter the much-anticipated future of learning.