By Shannon Nolan
Had my primary school handed me a large cheque to buy whatever my heart desired when I was young, I probably wouldn’t have chosen virtual reality or a coding kit or a Latin learning program. Firstly, because commercial VR didn’t exist quite yet. Secondly, I was more focused on trying to colour inside of the lines in a colouring book.
But what if you gave a teacher a cheque? Would they buy EdTech?
Maybe. But only after they’ve purchased their extra boxes of Kleenex during flu season, markers for the dry erase board, decorations for each term’s classroom theme, hand sanitisers, pencils, treats for winter holiday festivities, and everything else teachers and school leaders can’t stretch their budgets to cover.
School budgets are shrinking and in order to meet the demands of their profession, teachers put in more free labour and resources than ever before. They’re often spending their own money to give students a creative, interesting learning experience. Teachers spend their summer holidays planning, decorating and searching for resources. Worksheets must be printed, tissue boxes must be available along with marking stamps and pencils. Lesson plans must be written and rewritten to meet ever changing national standards and benchmarks.
Insert an EdTech company’s sales pitch for a new tablet application that costs more than that teacher’s entire year’s budget. It’s the newest innovation in the field, they’ll say. It’s necessary for students’ success in an increasingly technological world, they’ll include. Both might be true. But the end result is this: the company won’t make the sale and the classroom will go without the new product. No one wins and the students lose most.
Budget friendly responses to creating innovative classrooms
Rocket Fund, a new online platform that allows teachers to crowdfund projects for their classroom, is asking the same question. It works with teachers’ own networks to raise half of the funds needed to purchase new technology or supplies while finding a local business to match fund the rest.
This step in the right direction is making the education technology marketplace more accessible for all teachers, no matter the size of their budget. Spending decisions are given back to teachers while the burden of stretching inadequate funds is taken off the shoulders of school leaders. Rocket Fund in the UK, and similar tools like DonorsChoose in the US are creating more financially autonomous classrooms by bringing corporates into the equation.
[Read more about the 1 Mile Project at Edspace, partnering with Nesta to bring Rocket Fund to the 61 schools in our neighbourhood].
UBS, the global financial service, sponsors The Bridge Academy, a school for 11-19 year olds in Hackney. In an area where 59% of students are eligible for free meals, UBS supports the school’s mission to take a parent’s income out of the education equation. Their contribution doesn’t end on the signature line of a cheque; UBS employees have put in over a combined 37,500 volunteer hours. Not only did the school benefit, the employees reported a greater satisfaction with their jobs.
What do we need to see more of to support school budgets?
Hidden within the colorful strings of the education ecosystem map - there are gaps which show that the recipients of primary and secondary school successes aren’t currently paying for them. So what areas are open for further innovation and collaboration?
Business funding in the classroom. Initiatives like Rocket Fund are working to bridge funding gaps and create mutually meaningful relationships between large and small companies and their local schools.
College and university funding. At what point do colleges and universities need to begin investing in the younger classrooms that their students come from? Could we design a more holistic financial support system for education, that connects the public and private institutions and industries that support us throughout a lifetime of learning into career development? Could EdTech companies draw funding from universities to benefit their customer base of schools?
This is where the unknown territory in the current ecosystem takes shape.
Mark your place in the ecosystem
The current map includes the direct Edspace and Emerge Education membership at the time of creation. We know there are many more innovative projects, organisations and ventures out there. What are we seeing happen in education innovation? What are we not seeing?
Our ambition is to build this map together, and share the knowledge - by inviting you to add your own details.