Catalysing Innovation with EdTech (29 March 2022)

Mr. John TSANG, Founder of Esperanza set the scene by pointing out that learning has gone beyond the four walls of a classroom and the first 20 odd years of a person’s life. Schools are no longer the only learning providers. Technology has enabled us to learn anything, anywhere, anytime and with anyone. More importantly, technology is catalysing changes on a daily basis.  If implemented effectively, EdTech can induce fundamental changes to teaching and learning, making education more personal, effective and inclusive.  On a broader level, EdTech can drive innovation in various industries in the digital age, and play an integral role in ensuring the competitiveness and sustainable development of our communities. The pandemic has perversely accelerated the pace of digital transformation for all organisations, and have increased the urgency for us to re-skill and up-skill ourselves. He outlined the key recommendations of the study. “Becoming the learning innovation and technology hub in the GBA could be the exact recipe that we need to inspire and energise everyone in our society to future proof ourselves,” John concluded. 

Key recommendations
Goal settingPublic authorities as champion Provide vision, goals, guidelines and metrics Lead by example 
Capacity Building Provide interdisciplinary training for education leadersMake teacher training a funding priorityPrepare pre-service teachers for the digital ageWork with leading EdTech solution providers around the worldSet up EdTech incubator and accelerator Provide business matching & market intelligence support to EdTech startups
Facilitating uptake of EdTech solutions Create a virtual market place for EdTech solutionsDevelop research, certification and localization capabilitiesBuild networks of progressive schools and organisationsOrganise EdTech challenges, test beds and showcasesUse EdTech to innovate business models of higher education institutes Integrate EdTech learning into companies’ ESG and CSR
Funding supportGovernment Make EdTech a priority in funding schemesTakes the lead to invest in EdTechFoundations Support R&D and piloting of EdTech solutions  Businesses Private banks to promote EdTech impact investmentCross-border co-investmentsStrategic corporate investment in EdTech
Greater Bay AreaPartnerships in R&DPiloting and localization of international EdTech solutions for the regionDevelopment and sharing of best practicesTeacher and startup developmentGoing out with Mainland EdTech ventures  
Ecosystem DevelopmentSet up a new learning and innovation hub to coordinate and support learning innovation and technology development with all stakeholders

Mr. John SOLEANICOV, Co-Leader, Learning Schools of Jacobs Foundation said  a  key thematic focus of the foundation is to understand and embrace the variability of learning i.e. personalised learning. Advances in artificial intelligence & other technologies are improving the efficacy of personalized learning, and innovation will come from private entities driven at least in part by profit motive. However, there is still a lack of evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of the solutions. As a result, schools, governments,  donors and investors are unable to make decisions due to lack of robust and comparable data around potential solutions. The Foundation has a three-pronged approach to develop itself as a premier funder of research in the education space:

The EdTech Research Ecosystem (CERES) focuses on 5 key areas:

  • Understanding and overcoming disparities in the impacts of digital technologies
  • Addressing the increasing barriers for children with disabilities to access education
  • Supporting collaborative learning through technology
  • Augmenting learning with the integration of AI
  • Applying neuroscience to design and evaluate learning 

Under the Learning EdTech Impact Funds (LEIF), the Foundation works with major EdTech VCs in the US and Europe (and one in Asia for the India markets). John said it was not easy at the beginning as it is a very unconventional approach for foundations in Europe, and they pledged to channel the investment proceeds into CERES.  It also forms the Ed First Alliance with 12 like-minded foundations and family offices such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Chan and Zuckerberg Initiative.

John said that it is difficult to have one set of measurements for all EdTech solutions. But he emphasized that every EdTech startup should have in mind from the beginning what the product hopes to achieve, what they want the learners to learn and the measurable standards; albeit it should not be a protracted process of randomised controlled trials. 

Ms. Litzie MARREK, Partner and Co-Founder of EduCapital introduced the background and development of EduCapital, and the rapid expansion of EdTech investment in Europe. Their fund grew from $200M in 2017 to $3 Billion in 2021, accelerated by the digital transformation brought about by the pandemic.  The fund  seeks to make education more accessible and inclusive, and nurture a future ready generation. It has a dual objective of generating financial returns for its LPs and creating impact for the society through integrating the financial and impact framework. In making EdTech investments, they look for ‘scale’, ‘accessibility’ and ‘sustainability’ of the offering, and measure impact with 3 categories of indicators, namely reach, inclusiveness and learning outcome. For the latter, it can be demonstrated by comparing the outcomes of cohorts learning with and without the solutions and proxies like engagement and usage. 

Mr. Pierre DILLENBOURG is a Professor from EPFL, one of the top 5 science and technology institutions in Europe. He introduced the work of the EdTech Collider, which aims to facilitate collaboration amongst startups, customers, investors, scientists etc. In Switzerland, there is no catalog of providers and customers do not know where to purchase products that they need.  EPFL is a platform to give the startups visibility to the market.  They introduced a programme for master students to be attached to EdTech startups for 4 months to help measure their learning outcome. He illustrates their work in tracking the effectiveness of EdTech solutions, using the example of a startup that applies AI to tackle dysgraphia of young children. 

Breakout Discussions

Participants joined 4 breakout sessions to discuss the findings and recommendations of the Esperanza report. The facilitators shared the gists of the discussion:

Goal setting, ecosystem development and cross-border collaborations

Alessandro Di Lullo (Co-Founder, SuperCharger Ventures) underscored a strong view from his group that the government should take the lead to make EdTech a core focus of its policy. The establishment of a learning innovation hub similar to the one in Helsinki can bring everyone to work together. He also pointed out that Hong Kong’s DNA is a connector. The city can build international connections beyond the GBA and Asia.

Capacity building 

Ada Wong (Director, Ednovators) shared the point made by Prof Nancy Law that we need multi-level leadership in building the capacity of the ecosystem and educators need to be empowered to make pedagogical changes with EdTech. There should be more structured blended learning training. Ivan Wong from LinkedIn and Principal Joyce Chung pointed out that the government has to use EdTech and lift the funding restrictions on online learning. Other important areas include school leaders development and creating networks of progressive educators and talent development professionals.

Facilitating uptake of EdTech solutions 

Dr Jason Chan (Assistant Dean, Polytechnic University) shared the pain points of teachers not knowing the right person to approach in selecting, procuring and implementing EdTech products  as there is no guideline from the Education Bureau. Jason believed that setting up an EdTech certification scheme can help educators select suitable solutions. Participants feel strongly that teachers should be given time to receive EdTech training. Bill Lee of JobsDB also pointed out that employers in Hong Kong prefer to hire rather than training staff whenever there is a skill gap in the organisation. This is no longer sustainable.

Funding Support

Katy Yung (Managing Partner, Sustainable Finance Initiative) highlighted that existing government funding/co-investment schemes may not suit the needs of EdTech ventures in Hong Kong. There is a strong case for foundations to be more supportive of EdTech solutions. Discussants in the group shared some good practices of other governments. E.g. The Singapore government issues specific mandates on skills training to underline the funding schemes. The UK Government provides convertible bonds to EdTech startups, in addition to grants and equity investment. 

Inviting Community Responses to the Esperanza Study

Rachel Chan, Co-Founder of Esperanza, invited the audience to share their thoughts on the study recommendations.