Changes to formal education will be one of the lasting legacies of the pandemic.
The forced move to remote learning brought on by global shutdowns exposed both the opportunity and the pitfalls of current and future learning methods. It demonstrated the inadequacy of traditional textbook-based instruction and sped-up a willingness on the part of districts, teachers, and colleges to experiment with more customized learning options.
While a complete shift to online instruction is not in the cards now – limited by a lack of childcare options for working parents and the realities of a deep digital divide, it is undeniable that the future of education will look vastly different than it did pre-COVID.
The Growth of EdTech
A major driver of this transformation will be the EdTech industry, a collection of technology-powered approaches to facilitating teaching and improving learning that proved critical during the pandemic. While not every EdTech experiment worked in every instance, the use of technology over the last year plus demonstrated the power of targeted and flexible learning options.
Dee Saigal, the founder, CEO and Creative Director of Erase All Kittens (EAK) – a platform using gamification to teach kids, especially girls, transferrable digital skills – says that in the UK alone, the pandemic led to a massive 71.5% growth of that country’s EdTech ecosystem. Panning out, education research firm HolonIQ projects the overall EdTech sector will grow 2.5x between 2019 and 2025, reaching $404B in total global expenditure.
This growth will be fueled by schools and teachers that are using technology to replace old models of standardized learning and create more personalized, self-directed experiences for students. These experiences can also provide students with instant feedback on their performance, along with pointers on how they might improve. This helps arm teachers with more insights and provides ways to keep parents more informed on progress.
Saigal says that the growth of EdTech will also change the role of teachers. Instead of using class time only to convey information, technology can help them to better use their time to teach problem-solving, communication, and collaboration skills. She says it also provides students and teachers with an opening to create their own digital content, including animations and videos.
A Nontraditional Path to Tech
Growing up, Saigal was interested in making video games but was put off by tech instruction at the time because of its rigid focus on learning programs like Excel and PowerPoint. She gave up on her dream because she assumed that without learning how to code, she could not succeed in the industry.
After graduating with a degree in design and illustration from Central Saint Martins College of Art, she took a job as a creative copywriter in advertising in London and Paris. But six years later, she changed careers in pursuit of her original passion.
Through a series of meetups and game jams in London, she eventually met her co-founder and fellow Central Saint Martins’ graduate, Leonie. Together, they puzzled over why more girls were not entering the tech and gaming fields.
Their research showed that gender stereotypes at an early age were resulting in lower STEM confidence and participation by girls. This was exacerbated by role models and teachers who had lower expectations of girls, a vicious cycle that led to lower performance and a widening gap in tech skills as girls get older.
Saigal and her cofounder were determined to reverse this dynamic by finding a new way for kids to learn how to create on the web. Their research led them to gamification as a cornerstone for learning.
She says this was validated by the pandemic as many educators turned to the use of games or game-like approaches to keep kids engaged and progressing once instruction shifted online. This reliance on gamification was also backed up by a recent survey that showed 81% of students were more productive when instructed using a game-like approach.
Saigal says it works because gaming presents a familiar framework within which students can operate while learning skills like problem-solving and critical thinking. In contrast to a one-size-fits-all traditional lesson plan, online instruction using gamification can be highly personalized, allowing students to learn at their own pace in a more engaging way.
Enlisting Girls in Coding
With their strategy set, and confident in the visual foundations of their product because of their shared art and design backgrounds, they set out to learn the business and technical aspects of the business. Their focus was to build the most fun and effective coding game for kids – especially girls.
The two initially bootstrapped the company and enlisted developers to help with the product build. They were selected for the Emerge Education program when their product was an early prototype, and raised grant funding to carry out further R&D.
While she acknowledges that growing the business has been hard with setbacks along the way, she says her passion has sustained her. Saigal loves the creative freedom of designing her own levels for the games and is always inspired by the idea that she’s building something that will appeal to girls.
While EAK is used by both boys and girls, her mission is to show the world that girls can code and create. Her experience searching for tech inspiration in a world run and managed by men left her wanting for more. She hopes that her involvement at EAK results in characters, mechanics, and stories that are more identifiable and appealing to girls.
That’s critical as it can help close the gender gap in tech and give more girls the critical digital skills they need for today’s world. This will mean far more opportunities, higher wages, and career flexibility for these young women.
Saigal says that if she’s successful in helping build a coming generation of female coders, then she’ll take satisfaction from showing the world that despite its inherent biases, women can and will shape the world around them using technology.