Back to basics with Bett

Charley Rogers reports on the main talking points from Bett 2019

The sheer amount of edtech on the market is never more apparent when walking around the exhibition hall at Bett. 

This year saw over 700 established edtech companies and 100 start-ups convene at the Excel in London from 23–26 January for the 35th edition of the Bett show.

While last year’s show had a focus on the fourth industrial revolution, and the preparation of young people for jobs that may not yet exist, this year’s show was multiple in its approach. From the elaborate displays of tech giants such as Microsoft and Google, to the Bett Futures area populated by much smaller start-up stands, there was a wide variety of edtech solutions on show. 

One thing that really did stand out, however, was the focus on teacher workload, and the use of edtech in alleviating the burden.

Education secretary Damian Hinds opened the event on Wednesday 23 January with a speech outlining four key objectives for an edtech strategy. Hinds also spoke of the burden of teacher workload, and set a target of reducing the amount of time teachers spend on lesson prep, marking and assessment by two hours or more per week. 

Liz Sproat, head of education (EMEA) at Google, told Education Technology: “I’ve been pleased to see that Damian Hinds has come out with a more direct statement about UK digital policy, and around helping make teachers’ lives easier.”

Cleo Fatoorehchi, customer success manager at education crowdfunding company Rocket Fund, also commented on the trend for educators wanting to get back to “education first, technology second.” She told ET: “It’s all about efficacy first. And when you look at efficacy, it’s going back to basics; how technology improves education, how it improves teaching and learning. That’s where you have the real transformation.” 

It’s all about efficacy first. And when you look at efficacy, it’s going back to basics.
– Cleo Fatoorehchi, Rocket Fund

In terms of exhibitors that were focusing on lightening teachers’ workloads, and therefore improving educational outcomes, one particular start-up from Bett Futures stood out. Smart Rubric, founded and run by former English teacher Caroline Bayley, is a digital marking system that provides a streamlined system for competency-based subjects, such as the humanities. Teachers can use ready-made mark schemes or create their own, and track students’ progress with real-time data. 

As well as Smart Rubric, Kubo Robotics and SAMLabs both displayed an interest in maximising teachers’ use of time with simple robotics kits that help young children learn the foundations of robotics and coding. Each come with curriculum-aligned support materials, and SAMLabs offer lesson plans to allow teachers to spend less time on lesson prep. 

Another common talking point at Bett 2019 was the genuine desire of edtech companies to improve the experiences of both teachers and students. Josh Phillips, project coordinator at the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD) commented on the range of technologies on offer, and the interest in putting a “positive spin” on the issue of automation. He praised the development of technology “that people can get to grips with and master, to really make schools and education institutions better places”. 

Founder and CEO of AI company Century Tech, Priya Lakhani, also touched on the issue of social impact. She told ET: “There are a lot of edtech companies that have a strong social impact view, like we do. We’re really interested in building an ecosystem with them, and so Bett’s not just been about meeting schools, it’s been about creating partnerships.” 

Lakhani continued: “I think for the stakeholder that’s the best thing, because this is an ecosystem of partners that exist, that is truly going to be about improving outcomes, and reducing workload.” 

This concept of Bett as an ecosystem was certainly reflected in the atmosphere of the show. As well as a packed schedule of talks and workshops where educators could hear from experts and peers and share best practice, there were a number of exhibitor stands where students and teachers were able to get involved in testing products, and even trialling live classrooms. 

Bett’s not just been about meeting schools, it’s been about creating partnerships.
– Priya Lakhani, Century Tech

As well as her enjoyment and endorsement of the Bett community, Lakhani raised a concern about the wider edtech industry and their use of the term ‘artificial intelligence’. She said: “This year what I’ve seen is a huge danger, and that is that artificial intelligence is being used as a marketing term. Everywhere you go, it’s “we use AI”, or “we’re going to use AI”. But do they have big databases, how much data are they collecting, are they collecting and analysing data in an ethical way? Not a lot of people have answers to these questions.” 

Lakhani’s concern feeds into the running theme of helping teachers to make the most of their time, and ensure that the technology they’re using is effective. She said: “Because the stakeholders here are teachers and educators, they’re not necessarily going to know the key differences between a truly artificially intelligent system, and an LMS or VLE. This is a problem.” 

Despite concerns, though, Lakhani remained largely positive. She commented on the inclusivity of the show, saying: 

“I’m starting to see a lot more interactivity at Bett this year. This is great, because these are things that kids can get their hands on, can play with. We need kids to be able to feel this stuff and experience it, rather than just hear the theory behind it. It’s really accessible.” 

Above all, Bett remains a place where edtech providers, educators and students can come together to explore the possibilities that education technology provides, and find tools that work well for them. 

Liz Sproat at Google agreed, telling ET: “Bett continues to be exciting in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, and bringing newer technologies to bear.”

She added: “For me, Bett’s always been about going to see what’s at the forefront. Not only what’s possible today, but what might be coming in the future.” 

For information about Bett 2020, head to https://bettshow.com 

Your [FREE] In-depth Guide To Object Storage

Plus: How University of Leicester Saved 25% in Data Storage Costs