Investors must seek out research-led edtech, says education foundation

The Jacobs Foundation has committed £33 million “to bridge the gap between learning science and edtech”

A multi-million-dollar investment foundation has called on the edtech industry and investors in the UK to deepen collaboration with researchers before launching new products and projects.

The Swiss-based Jacobs Foundation – founded in 1989 by the billionaire Klaus J. Jacobs – has called for a “culture shift” in the British edtech sector, which it estimates is worth £3bn and representative of 40% of European edtech investment.

The foundation was founded to invest in children, young people and education across the globe. It will invest £412 million in education by 2030, including £33 million “to bridge the gap between learning science and edtech”.

The foundation wants the edtech industry to improve its collaboration with researchers, pursuing more evidence-led approaches. Similarly, the foundation has called on edtech capital funds to make investment decisions based on research and data. It says investors should seek closer collaboration with researchers when assigning capital to new products and companies to ensure only viable approaches make it to the marketplace.

The plea is one of many to the sector to ensure the efficacy of new products.

With dizzying amounts of investment pouring into the UK edtech sector, we must not lose sight of what really matters: whether these new innovations truly benefit children’s learning
– Jacobs Foundation

The announcement comes as the UK education secretary, Nadham Zahawi, set out new government edtech guidelines for schools to ensure all pupils in England receive a minimum standard of tech-enhanced teaching. Mr Zahawi said he wanted to see “a new culture of evidence-based use of technology embedded in every school” but “will not be interfering in the marketplace”.

The approach signalled by the government makes the collection and analysis of authenticated evidence all the more vital to aspiring developers hoping for a toe-hold in the sector.

In May, the Jacobs Foundation will hold a conference in Germany – Unlocking the Impact of Edtech – to discuss ways to make more and better use of evidence.

Fabio Segura and Simon Sommer, co-chief executives of the Jacobs Foundation, said: “With dizzying amounts of investment pouring into the UK edtech sector, we must not lose sight of what really matters: whether these new innovations truly benefit children’s learning.

“Today, we are calling for a culture shift in edtech. The UK investment and research communities should work together, and with partners around the world, to integrate more evidence into the development of edtech products. This will be a win-win for everyone.

“Investors will make better decisions, start-ups collaborating with researchers will improve their products, and students will have access to edtech that benefits their learning. There is not a moment to lose for students disrupted by Covid.”

The Jacob Foundation’s £33m investment in edtech will back three interlinked global initiatives. The foundation’s Learning Edtech Impact Funds (LEIF) will invest £27m into venture capital funds that invest in projects evidenced by research. The trust will spend £8.2m to support a newly launched research centre at the University of California Irvine, Connecting the Edtech Research EcoSystem (Ceres). Ceres will bring together experts in computer science, human-computer interaction, education, and psychology to produce “cutting-edge scientific research into how children learn through technology”.

The foundation will launch an alliance of trusts under the banner EdFIRST to “work together to encourage the use of evidence in edtech investment decisions”. Segura and Sommer said the new alliance of foundations seeks to “support a large-scale shift towards evidence for impact in edtech to shape education policy globally by 2030 and beyond”.

Related comment: The importance of gathering evidence of edtech impact

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