Tech for good: Conor Flynn

First in a series looking at how edtech companies and education institutions can use technology for the benefit of all

Conor Flynn is COO of Adaptemy

Can you give us examples of how edtech companies and education institutions are already using technology for the greater good?

Increasing overall access to education is the biggest area of progress. As children learn and develop, they can often find themselves left out academically if, for example, they are not interested in a certain subject, or if they don’t get on with their teacher, or can’t keep up, or if there are language difficulties.

Technology is one tool which, in some cases, can help learners to enjoy a positive, productive and fruitful educational experience. 

Adaptive learning, for instance, can help support those students who learn at different rates. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can bring parts of some subjects to life for some students. Communication tools can also enable parents and communities to connect with school life.

… and any other examples you expect to see gaining traction in the education sector over the next few years?

In Europe, the increasing stress and lack of positivity around the teaching profession is reaching crisis point, as the industry fails to attract enough bright young people.

Meanwhile, across the developing world, there is a severe shortage of qualified teachers to educate the pre-university population.

Technologies which either improve the job of a teacher, produce more teachers or allow teachers to work with a larger number of students are urgently needed. Technologies which tackle these problems will be the next to gain traction worldwide.

Can you highlight one edtech-for-good development that particularly stands out for you?

It is unlikely that any one solution will solve any educational issue: on the other hand, several can make important contributions.

So, for example, adaptive e-learning, if properly integrated into the school day, can allow teachers to have a greater impact on a greater number of students. This could transform the profession’s reputation and encourage new talent to enter the industry.

AR or VR can enhance the experience some kids have in the classroom. Communication apps can lead to more transparency, and parental and community involvement in schools.

The fragmented, intrinsically human nature of the classroom, not to mention the vastly different cultures and curriculums that exist worldwide, will always demand a range of technologies to meet education’s diverse and ever-changing needs.

Do you think key decision-makers and funding bodies are giving sufficient support in this field? Is there enough incentive out there for edtech companies and education institutions to pioneer and adopt technology with strong social and health benefits?

In any given country or institution, the education system has been deeply embedded over a long period of time. As such, for each educational dilemma there are many, many stakeholders all with different agendas, all pulling and pushing in different directions. It is a politically charged environment, with 10 opponents to every solution proposed. I think it is very difficult for decision-makers and funding bodies to make good decisions in this field.

But, while there are relatively few single, driving incentives (financial or otherwise) for an edtech company to ‘solve education’, there are many niches where an edtech company can make a big difference in terms of social and health benefits – and be rewarded for doing so.

How would you sum up where we find ourselves currently in the edtech revolution? 

In many ways we are lucky in the developed world, where our education systems are pretty reasonable. It tends to be social issues (social networks, expectations from education), rather than access to education itself, that hold people back from literacy and numeracy in our countries.

Because of this, I feel that we are a little complacent in terms of seeing only diminishing marginal returns on the use of technology in the classroom. This can lead to the world of the school becoming more and more distant from the world outside, and ever-greater numbers of learners disengaging from what they perceive as a pointless education. This will make the job of the teacher an even less attractive prospect than it already is – and may lead to a crisis in education.

In developing countries, where institutions, systems and behaviours are less entrenched, we may see bigger breakthroughs in terms of technology for learning. This may lead to a transfer of knowledge, expertise, innovation and thought leadership to other parts of the world. These changes are always slow, until they are very fast.