Your best Bett: looking back on an engrossing 2018 show

Energetic and determined, Bett 2018 put learners right at the centre of edtech, finds Charley Rogers

Bett’s 34th year, held at London’s ExCel arena from 24-27 January was, as always, packed to the rafters with educators, edtech enthusiasts and a huge range of companies, from established giants like Microsoft and Google, to the sector’s up-and-comers, stationed within the Bett Futures section of the arena, reserved especially for start-ups. 

The tech industry famously moves at lightning speed, and so Bett is a great place to catch up on all the latest innovations. The theme of this year’s event was Industry 4.0 and preparing the next generation for jobs that don’t even exist yet. The technological capability of the students I was able to speak to at Bett was incredible, as was their interest in the process of learning. Students from Brookmead School have recently won a 3D printer from Ultimaker, thanks to last year’s Year 6 students’ innovative designs to make use of nearby empty land to help their local community. The students have been able to utilise their tech to both further their learning, and even to print 3D Christmas decorations which they then sold to help fundraise for their school. 

These entrepreneurial primary school students completely embodied the atmosphere of Bett – the excitement, the innovation, and the pure joy at using technology to create things they could otherwise not create. 

One stallholder – BESA member Studentnomic – is a prime example of what these interested and creative students could achieve, if they continue to expand their technological knowledge. There are many ways to describe Studentnomic; creators of mobile apps for schools, or innovative start-up. However, one of the most extraordinary things about this edtech company is revealed through the fact that its Chief Executive and Co-founder, Tim Collins, was unable to attend Bett… because he was sitting an A-level exam. 

This 17-year-old entrepreneur is running a successful company alongside a team of his school-age peers and has even gained BESA membership – an important milestone for any edtech company. This is truly where Bett stands apart from other trade shows. Speaking to Bett’s Managing Director, Simon Presswell, I began to understand why the show has remained so successful. Its philosophy is unshakeable, its methods reactive. On this year’s show, Simon said: “This year we’ve made a conscious decision to have four [stages], as opposed to last year’s 13. The main arena is now floor-to-ceiling cloaked in acoustic panelling and sound-proofing. I would describe it as our editorial stage.” 

Simon explained that one of the major reasons behind the difference in the main arena this year, is that the theme of the event – the fourth industrial revolution, helping to prepare the children of today for the jobs of tomorrow – was an essential lens through which issues within education were to be viewed. This meant that the main arena needed to be curated specifically to addressing these issues; informing and connecting people. Simon continued: “We produced a call for content and said that we’d be really interested in hearing from anybody that has a compelling educational story that can demonstrate educational outcomes. We wanted to hear what they thought about, what they did, how they deployed the idea, and what difference it made.” 

This democratic opening of the main stage, combined with rehearsing and polishing help from the Bett team, meant that the arena was completely full during almost every session. This connection between educators, students – which were also a part of some of the panels – and edtech businesses meant that ideas were shared and solutions to problems discussed by the people that are on the front line of our education system. 

There are so many elements to the Bett show that it would be impossible to address them all in one readable review. But if there is one thing that I took away from this year’s event more than anything else, it is the pure passion that exists within the edtech community, and how, when learners’ and teachers’ needs are placed at the centre of the discussion, even if the Wi-Fi is at best questionable, the outcome is almost magical. 

For information on Bett 2019, visit www.bettshow.com