The PIE News: How did EdTechX come about?
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet: I was working in the media industry before and I was frustrated, because I could see that large organisations couldn’t adjust well to digital transition, and then when I looked at the sectors to be impacted I realised that education would be the one because, at the end of the day, education and media are not that different.
Then I realised the digital educational sector was disjointed and so there was a need for a platform to connect the ecosystem, bring the disruptors, investors and the big corporate together. And the reason for this is because when digital transitions starts it always causes a lot of paranoia around who the winners are and who are the losers. What should we do?
“The most active investor in tech is China by far”
There is need for a conference, and there is also a need for advice – so we also have advisory platform that advises companies to either raise capital or make transactions, and that also creates investment opportunities.
The PIE: There seems to be less here about pedagogy than in other conferences, do you agree?
BV: Yes and I think its key because, the truth is, we see a lot of what we call ‘teacher-preneurs’ , who come up with innovations and have their views on what a new pedagogy. But it is hard for them to break through, because they don’t usually have access to capital and resources they don’t necessarily have the skills in terms of tech or business and so we felt that there was a need of a new generation of tech entrepreneurs.
To be frank, what’s missing from the edtech ecosystem is capital. Education is a huge sector, six trillion dollars, and edtech is a small portion. So it is a huge unbalance and so we found out there was a need to bring actually business discussions and investors into the educational ecosystem.
The PIE: Why is there this problem?
BV: Because there is always the dilemma when digital transitions start – having to disrupt your own business – and to be frank there is no solution.
To be a leader in education and having to basically reinvent themselves while being listed in the stock market is an impossible mission.
So, I think that is the reason we see a lot of tech companies getting into the sector as well… they are faster, sometimes more agile [and] they don’t usually have legacy positions.
The PIE: What do you see in the market with the difference between content providers and content platforms?
BV: At some point they’re going to have to be as good as the content on their platform. The Courseras, FutureLearns, edX, should at some point invest in their own content, and then create their own certification. They are all doing this and at the end of the day the day the question is ‘what is premium content in education?’, ‘what is valuable content in education?’.
And that is content that gets you a degree or a job. And so to the extent that those platforms can facilitate this, they will be winners.
The PIE: EdtechX is now on three continents, tell us how and why it reached this stage?
“Emerging markets are the fertile ground for edtech”
BV: We feel that education is quite a fragmented market, except the higher education, but otherwise it is a very national market.
But technology bridges all countries and curriculum, and you start to see convergence in the market, for example with the growth of the international baccalaureate, with the convergence of how we teach science all around the world. So we felt that there was certainly a regional, if not a global play in educational technology.
So we thought creating this platform as a multi-country, multi-region, multi-continent platform was a good thing to connect the ecosystem. So we launched Europe, Asia and this year we will launch Africa, we have partnerships in the US with SXSW, and we are about to think about Latin America as well.
The PIE: How does your personal experience play into that? Are you a globalist?
BV: Well the truth is, if you think of best practices they are all over the world, not only in Europe.
There is this previous-century vision of the Western world knows best in terms of education, and to some extents the globalisation of education is still about Western brands, western content, meeting demand in the South or in the East.
With the demography in Africa and Asia there are more students and alums coming from those markets, but we start to see as well brands emerging from the East. We were not looking five years ago [into] Singapore maths. For example if you look at all the countries in the Pisa rankings, except Finland they’re all in Asia.
Sometimes we are here with our French flag or English flag, American flag, saying ‘we know, we have the best system in the world’, but actually, not really.
“What’s missing from the edtech ecosystem is capital”
So I think this window of ‘premium-ness’ of western content for education is not going to last very long, and if you look at the most fertile grounds for education and education technology, those are going to be emerging markets for sure.
The PIE: What do you think is the future of international edtech?
BV: Edtech is going to be the future of competitive advantage of nations, and the most active investor in tech is China by far.
They are a huge believer in education, they are a huge investor in education, and they have a huge scale to try and test products. I think we are losing, if there was some kind of western hegimony on the world, we are kind of losing it by under investing in edtech.
Each country in Europe has its own edtech initiative, but there is no pan-European edtech initiative. It’s difficult for the EU to do this, as education remains a national prerogative.
I think it is a shame. We asked who would be the next giant of education by 2030 or 2050. You’ve got China, US, Nigeria, India, Brazil, Indonesia: a country for every continent but none in Europe.
And that is why we need to have a pan-European initiative. I think that is a shame.
The PIE: Are you worried that with current politics that isn’t going to improve?
BV: Yes, I am worried about this because in the end of the day, the main asset we have in Europe is probably our population and our education systems overall. If we suddenly start to fragment this we are going to start losing influence and power.