Whilst brick and mortar schools are being developed very quickly across the Middle East, China and South East Asia, digital platforms offer British schools an exciting and lucrative alternative or parallel channel for international expansion.
Although to date relatively few schools have used edtech to maximise their international reach, this seems likely to change. Certainly investors in education in China – including the likes of Goldman Sachs – see edtech as being the next big horizon. They are busy making plans to capture as much of this massive market as they can.
The business model is very different to that of brick and mortar schools which focus on lower numbers and high per capita spend. Edtech platforms depend on high numbers with a lower per capita spend. The open source solution Moodle claims to have more than 78 million registered users from 222 countries all over the world. The success of EtonX – Eton’s leadership studies module – shows that there is a ready market for well-developed edtech products in markets such as China.
However, edtech solutions need to be both well planned and well executed. They require more than mere content and technology. No school has the resources to fly solo with the development of edtech products and so strategic alliances with technology providers and local partners are essential. These are complex relationships, so schools need to access expert support and guidance on how they enter into them.
As an acknowledged leader in both edtech and the internationalisation of schools, Bird & Bird and its consultancy practice Baseline are uniquely positioned to advise schools on how they can best include edtech as part of their international growth strategy and support them in their development and implementation.
Schools need not re-invent the wheel and should draw upon the experiences of international digital transformation programmes in other sectors.
Key lessons include:
● A working technology delivery platform is a necessary pre-requisite but is no guarantee of a successful international programme. Edtech solutions need to be stable, reliable and provide high-quality educational content to give any chance of success. Any unreliability in availability or difficulties in accessing the service are likely to result in users looking elsewhere. Luckily, there is a wide range of edtech service providers that can provide the necessary quality of service. Partnering with an established and recognised provider is essential.
● Working in partnership with a strong local delivery partner is also essential. There have been several successful examples of disruptive technology providers working in partnership with established and more traditional incumbents who have the knowledge and understanding of the relevant business environment. The combination of disruptive technology solutions and well-established incumbents with a desire to change can be powerful and successful.
This brings the additional complexity of a three-way working arrangement between technology solution providers, the school and local partners who can deliver the solution ‘on the ground’.
The role of the local educational providers is not merely to ‘embed’ and deliver the education services which are enabled by the edtech solution. It is to build a strong distribution network and provide ongoing support, training and quality auditing. This is particularly so with blended platforms.
Edtech solutions without high-quality and corresponding physical services will generally be sub-optimal. They need to be provided in an appropriate context, with relevant branding and with strong quality control.