It has become a truism that education is ripe for change.
“The current system of education was designed in the Industrial Revolution,” says creativity guru Sir Ken Robinson.
“We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand,” says educator David Warlick.
Education technology (edtech) startups have been doing incredibly well in recent years with record amounts of investment from venture capital and angel investors. Direct sales of technology into schools have never been higher, and many edtech startups are being snapped up by large education organizations like Pearson as they watch their old business models crumble.
But a multi-trillion-dollar market such as education is tough to change over night. One in every 15 people employed in Canada works in the education industry. This inertia makes it hard to change behaviours, and transition teachers and students from paper and pens to screens and bits.
The education cluster at MaRS Discovery District is home to around 60 education ventures that sell into or partner with the K-20 system in North America. They range from high-tech to low-tech, from large to small and from for-profit to not-for-profit.
“In our experience advising dozens of high-tech startups, the ones that succeed tend to have an eye on the future of ubiquitous computing in classrooms, but also sell their products and services with an appreciation of the realities of the low-tech infrastructure in North American classrooms.”
What they offer are blended learning solutions: technological platforms that find an entry point with a low-tech “anchor”—something a teacher can use quickly and easily to engage students. For instance, Mimetics Digital Education uses simple robots to open up the world of programming and Bluetooth communication to kids. One Plant Per Class uses the simple act of watering plants to engage kids in a process that gets them involved in their school’s green initiatives through their smartphones.
For education entrepreneurs looking to scale their hi-tech ventures, a gentle, low-tech invocation such as One Plant Per Class’s call to “water your plants” is essential. Ventures always build new solutions upon what has come before, and for education companies that means a low-tech, centuries-old infrastructure. The successful entrepreneur will find a way to use this to their advantage.
Read more on the philosophy of “blended learning” and meet some of MaRS’s education entrepreneurs here. More suggestions for education entrepreneurs looking to break into Ontario’s education system can be found here.