Why Edtech is Destined to Turn Investor Heads

Investment in education technology or edtech is on an upward trend, reaching a record $16.3bn in 2018. Yet that’s just 3.6% of a global education industry valued at $6 trillion. As my old school report cards used to say – there is some room for improvement.

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However, the education industry as a whole is forecast to rise to $8 trillion by 2025 and organizations like the GSMA are working hard to support this growth. The GSMA operates Mobile World Congress (MWC) events in Barcelona, Los Angeles and Shanghai. They also have a number of regional conferences, including the startup-focused 4 Years From Now (4YFN) event. The latter attracts more than 20,000 startups, investors and media from all over the world.

4YFN’s EdTech Track, working in collaboration with GSMA’s mSchools, unites entrepreneurship and education. Its aim is to start a conversation about the impact of technology on learning and provide a platform for impactful innovation in the field.

I spoke to Albert Forn, Director of mSchools, to discuss why the edtech industry – and education itself – is so important for startup hubs around the world and why investors should sit up and take notice.

4YFN and the next generation of digital citizens

Albert is based in Barcelona, Spain’s number one startup hub. He believes that mLearning—learning that takes place on a mobile device—is an area of edtech with great potential in helping young people be more prepared for their future careers.

4YFN and mSchools have been helping to transform education in schools in northeast Spain for the last five-and-a-half years. They’re working in collaboration with public and private entities to produce curriculum materials and provide the platforms and the know-how to educate the next generation.

“We’re empowering teachers, administrators, and the school system to better serve the need of the students and help them to become digital citizens,” he says.

In a world of fake news, in-app communication and social networks, children and older students not only need to learn how to use technology, they need to learn about the impact of tech on their personal and professional lives. Students, therefore, need to know how to navigate and operate safely online. Then they can develop the skills needed to evaluate the veracity of the information they find (and share) online. This is something mSchools is helping teachers manage.

“It’s about harnessing the power of mobile technology. Edtech should help educators transform pedagogy and introduce critical thinking and creative skills to students,” Albert says.

A complex edtech landscape

mLearning, however, is just a small part of a far more complex edtech landscape – and for outsiders, it can be quite a confusing place that goes well beyond the classroom walls.

It traverses the spectrum from pre-primary educational games, immersive experiences, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), to HR training, assessment and verification – and a lot more besides.

Effectively, edtech impacts on everyone from students to employers, employees, administrators, and trainers. As such, only a small proportion of investment in edtech actually ends up in schools. There’s still a lot of scope for edtech growth in the classroom.

Pre-K–20 education received 13% of the overall global investment and higher education companies received just 8% in 2017. The same is true of government investment in education: Total public spending of OECD nations averages just 4.5% as a proportion of GDP, according to WeForum.

And this is something Albert feels strongly about.

“Globally, education is underserved with respect to budget,” he says. “Very few countries dedicate to education what they should be spending – and that is a crime. Education is the future of all of us. Young people are some of the most important assets that any country has.”

Investment in classroom edtech makes business sense

Silicon Valley is the archetype – fed by a constant stream of talent from nearby Berkeley and Stanford University, among others – it has produced the highest number of unicorns in the world.

“Edtech investment just makes business sense. It’s a nascent industry. It has a lot of space for technology to improve education and a lot of startups with promising ideas.”

Albert explains that artificial intelligence is one of these exciting ideas that should be incorporated (carefully) into education.  

“Edtech teaches kids logic, coding and other key skills that will be in demand as they move into the workforce.”

He explains that companies investing in the edtech space also recognize that technology not only improves education for learners in the short term, but it deepens the talent pool in the long term.

“There is a very clear intent from 4YFN to work and collaborate with agents in the education space,” he says. “Talent can really make or break a startup hub, so ultimately, investing in edtech is a no-brainer.”

Investing in education is more than just a business decision for most though. It’s also a part of corporate social responsibility – and something to be proud of.

“Kids are the future – and that’s definitely a market space you want to be positioned in. You’re doing something for the good of society and education is one of the best ways to do that.”

George Chilton has lived in the UK, South Korea, Colombia and is now based in Barcelona, Spain. He is the co-owner and Creative Director of Hubbub Labs, a content marketing agency for startups. He loves writing about tech, education, and travel.

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  • Originally published March 22, 2019, updated April 26, 2023