When the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread around Europe in the first half of 2020, education providers inevitably had to find new digital solutions to temporarily offer classes online. Platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams gained huge popularity globally, whereas other platforms such as Adobe Connect and Pexip have offered additional innovation. Specifically, because edtech and digital education have significant advantages beyond their capability to bridge periods of lockdown, this article serves to inform and inspire education, design, IT and data enthusiasts with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Digital Education Action Plan
Whereas the COVID-19 pandemic might have increased the need for new measures in the area of digital education and edtech, European Commission (EC) president Ursula von der Leyen already emphasized as early as in 2019 that “Europe must lead the transition to…a new digital world”. That the EC has taken this aim seriously has, among others, been revealed through the commencement of the Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027), which replaced the earlier Digital Education Action Plan (2018-2020). The two priority areas of this plan relate to:
- Fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem
In order to promote a high-quality and inclusive digital education ecosystem, governments, education and training institutes, the private sector and the public need to cooperate and make relevant contributions and investments. As the EC argues, hereby…
- A very high-capacity internet connectivity plays a key role in inclusion;
- Effective digital capacity planning and development is indispensable for education and training systems;
- The exposure to digital education content and training in digital skills (i.e. digital teaching) are essential for staff.
- Enhancing digital skills and competences for the digital transformation
According to the EC, the enhancement of digital skills and competences for the digital transformation are relevant for the following reasons:
- Boosting digital skills at all levels helps to increase growth and innovation and build a fairer, more cohesive, sustainable and inclusive society;
- Digital literacy has become essential for everyday life, which requires that people of all ages can actively participate in democratic life, manage overload of information and identify disinformation;
- Computing education in schools teaches young people to remain critical of the possibilities and boundaries of the digital world, prepares them for the job market and can be combined with efforts to create awareness about gender stereotypes.
- Addressing connectivity and equipment gaps (i.e. in relation with available technologies);
- Supporting education and training institutes with know-how to promote an inclusive digitization;
- Fostering dialogue between stakeholders in the economy and education institutions;
- Encouraging Member States to develop guidelines for digital pedagogy to make sure that educational content and staff comply with best practises;
- Develop a European Digital Education Content Framework and launch a feasibility study of a European Exchange platform;
- Develop a recommendation on online and distance learning for primary and secondary education by the end of 2021 etc.
To sum up, the EU’s Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) aims at implementing various measures which mirror that the digitization of education will continue to have profound consequences on everyday life as well as social and societal relationships, processes, the economy and institutions. Especially, since education might be at the heart of growing a healthy, content and participative population, it needs to be regulated effectively and it needs to promote tolerance and inclusion from an early age. However, education stays relevant for all age classes and this field offers huge potential for innovation across time and space.
Why Start Up a Business in or Invest into Edtech and Digital Education?
As indicated above, startups who are interested in edtech and digital education cannot possibly be aware of all the challenges, which need to be addressed right now and in the future in order to promote access to quality education (SDG 4) as a catalyzer for reaching several other sustainable development goals (SDGs). The latter holds especially true, because only few startups were active in the education sector in Germany prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the German Startup Monitor 2020, even in 2020 only 4% of German startups were located primarily in the education sector.
Despite that these 4% represented an 1.1% increase as compared to 2019, the European edtech and smart classrooms market is estimated to reach $61,250 million in 2027. In other words, there is a much larger potential for starting up a business in edtech anywhere in Europe right now. Specifically, because edtech enables teaching across borders, starting up with an edtech business can be particularly promising for entrepreneurs who offer scalable solutions. However, since it might also take a while until digital education will truly become inclusive, there are also various chances to contribute for start-ups who aim to work on one particular niche or are less tech-affine (i.e. translators, teachers, researchers).
It is remarkable that at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, 28,4% of German startups in the education sector noticed a positive impact of the crisis on their businesses. Especially because fewer startups in information and communication technology (ICT) were affected positively by the COVID-19 pandemic, while the majority of German startups (31,8%) are active in this sector, entering the education sector can constitute a second chance for startups in ICTs. Lastly, because the Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) might result in “the creation of a European Exchange Platform to share certified online resources (such as massive, open online courses) and link existing education platforms”, startups in the edtech and digital education sector might find public and private investors more easily in the future.
Thereby, the EC’s intent to create a stakeholder forum to encourage participation from businesses in the digital education agenda, that is the establishment of a Digital Education Hub, might make it easier for startups to find investors. Especially in its attempt to achieve a European Education Area by 2025 and as part of the EU’s Digital Europe Funding Programme (DIGITAL), startups are encouraged to deliver new solutions.
German EdTech and Digital Education Startups
Learning from others is one way of gaining inspiration to create something new and tackle existing problems. Therefore, be inspired by the excellent work of startups who are active in edtech and digital education in Germany right now! Out of 518 edtech startups in Germany, these are 3 inspiring companies:
Tomorrow’s Education was founded by Christian Rebernik and Thomas Funke in Berlin in 2020. Since the company’s vision is to create ‘empowered creators’, their platform offers a professional master program in Sustainability, Entrepreneurship and Technology in cooperation with WU Executive Academy at Vienna University of Economics and Business. Both, their online learning platform and the MA programme, aim at the two priority areas of the Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027). As the programme is delivered in a digital and innovative manner, it teaches students among others technological literacy and how to embody an entrepreneurial spirit.
The startup Tandem was founded by Arnd Aschentrup, Matthias Kleimann and Tobias Dickmeis in 2015 is headquartered in Berlin. The Tandem app offers a mobile-based solution for language learning, whereby users can choose a tandem with similar interests and start talking via text, voice notes, audio or video call. In-app correction and translation tools demonstrate that digital innovation matters to Tandem, which has gained further popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, when user numbers exploded and additional funding was secured.
CO-Leader was founded by Phillip Spiekermann and Florian Abel in Cologne in 2020. Based on the need to prepare students and employees for stepping into leadership positions, the startup offers digital leadership training, which is aimed at benefiting employers and employees alike. After users undergo a potential analysis, the CO-Leader app designs personalized training, which aims at the further development of existing skills and at bridging existing gaps. Whereas CO-Leader aims to facilitate and simplify services for the HR departments of businesses, CO-Leader’s solution is certainly scalable to higher education.
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