Investment in education technology boomed ahead of outbreak

Investment spiked in education technology companies last year, even before the coronavirus crisis forced schools to adopt remote learning en masse, according to new data.

Families across the UK are coming to grips with homeschooling and online resources after the government closed schools to almost all children as a measure to combat the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Families across the UK are coming to grips with homeschooling and online resources after the government closed schools to almost all children as a measure to combat the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

The UK’s education technology sector attracted 289m US dollars (£237m) in venture capital money last year, according to new data from Dealroom. It is a 91 per cent jump from the year before, when 151m dollars (£124m) were poured into the sector.

The boost came as the US’s sector fell by 12 per cent and venture capital investment in European education technology companies rose eight per cent.

Since 2014, venture capitalists have poured 857m dollars (£703m) into the UK’s sector.

It came ahead of a period when kids are taking to games such as Minecraft to stay in touch with each other and to learn during lockdown.

Faced with the challenge of schooling children at home, often while carrying on their own jobs, parents are also using resources from large and small tech companies, including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, the BBC, and others.

In Yorkshire, Sheffield-based Twinkl is providing free access to over 600,000 learning materials and resources. It has also supported the BBC in its educational push in the wake of coronavirus.

“Over the last six weeks the UK’s world-leading [education technology] sector has used its expertise to develop practical solutions and online learning tools for schools, parents and pupils during this challenging time,” said Caroline Dinenage, minister for digital. “The work it is doing right now will pave the way for new technology to help shape the future of education in the UK and around the world. I thank the sector for all its efforts and urge it to keep it up.”

Suzanne Ashman, partner at LocalGlobe, said: “Remote learning will remain an important component of education for all age groups.”

She added: “We continue to look for ambitious founders building edtech solutions that work for all young people.”

Meanwhile, Cambridge scientist Amy Orben encouraged parents to stop worrying about the time their kids spend in front of screens, and instead focus on what they are doing online.

“Digital games and platforms can potentially mitigate some of the negative consequences children and adolescents are feeling from being separated from their friends and should not be underestimated,” she said.

“Activities such as video calling friends, exchanges via social media or playing Fortnite with friends online will all help keep children and teenagers connected throughout the lockdown.”

The Department for Education has committed over £100m to provide devices and access to the internet for vulnerable and disadvantaged children and ensuring every school that needs it has access to free, expert technical support to get set up on Google for Education or Microsoft’s Office 365 Education. The DfE is also offering peer-to-peer support from schools and colleges with the use of education technology.

Edtech companies in the UK are numerous but tend to be at an earlier stage in development than those in markets like the US. Companies have raised smaller sums of money than those in sectors including AI, fintech and healthtech and are less well equipped to cope with the sudden demand from parents or schools.