One-stop pi-top

Jesse Lozano, CEO at edtech frontrunner pi-top, talks to Charley Rogers about edtech’s place in bringing education to all, and how the innovative company has climbed to the status of household name so quickly

Q: What is tech’s role in democratising education? 

You’ve got to use the right type of tech, at the right price, for the right school to make it good value for money.

Previously tech has been used as the stop-gap measure – there’s been the idea that tech can replace teachers – but I can’t imagine a worse scenario for the classroom. It’s not about replacing teachers with tech; it’s about augmenting them. It’s about integrating tech into the classroom to be able to deliver something you wouldn’t be able to deliver otherwise.

On the pricing side, it really depends on the budget for the schools: you have to decide what’s going to give you the best bang for your buck; tech for tech’s sake is not intelligent. For instance, we, at pi-top, spend money in ways that is efficient. Getting kids to memorise things better, encourage them to engage with the subject – those kinds of things. The worst-case scenario would be using tech to encourage things like rote learning. We should be using tech to augment these experiential exploration points, engaging them with the subject matter, creating that engaging learning spiral. Sometimes we use tech to reinforce centuries-old learning outcomes and stale logic, but this should not be what it’s about. We need to use tech to engage students in ways they’ve never been engaged before.

It’s not about replacing teachers with tech; it’s about augmenting them

Only 10% of students will go onto STEM careers – this number has remained stable for a number of decades. That tells me that STEM subjects, as they’re currently taught, are only engaging that small minority who are predisposed to the subjects. Tech allows us to create an inclusive environment: to engage with those students who’ve been disenfranchised or maybe feel shy. Then we start to see a change in the classroom.

We have to temper that with the realisation that kids still need to do well in their exams; teachers still need to test. That’s not something we’re here to change… just now! But we find that kids who are genuinely engaged with the subject, who take their learning home with them tend, unsurprisingly, to do better in exams. Tech should be used to encourage kids to apply knowledge, to use their knowledge – these things tend to get you an ‘A’ anyway.

Q: pi-top has been around for less than four years, yet you’re an edtech household name. Can you explain your meteoric rise? 

Well, from the beginning we’ve always maintained that we’re an education tool, not a game. It’s something that can be integrated into the classroom, weekly; rather than something shoe-horned into the classroom once a term. We have a core USP – we’re not edutainment, we’re not on Wallmart shelves. We take a teacher-first, school-first approach. Our ambition was to take a school-centric approach. Having a singular focus on schools, teachers and students was how we managed to grow so quickly. I really feel that the teaching profession was really screaming for this type of product, this kind of offering.

We have to temper that with the realisation that kids still need to do well in their exams; teachers still need to test

Q: What advice would you give to educators who are reluctant – for lack of training or funds – to implement edtech? 

With pi-top we’re with you every step of the way: you get teacher training as part of that, we have a great onboarding process. It’s super easy to apply things with pi-top; getting to grips with this project-based learning, this hands-on learning. We’ve had kids build moisture sensors, compete in solar car challenges with the technology. There are all these amazing examples, but when you receive a pi-top you get step-by-step instructions on how to start it. You get kids coming back home from school and raving about what they’ve been up to that day, coming home and having better knowledge about technology than their parents do. It’s a mental thing: once you’ve taken the plunge, it’s actually hard to stop integrating pi-top into how you teach in schools.