Changing education is an incredibly difficult process. Upgrading curricula or changing teaching methods requires the convincing of parents, students and teachers alike. For years prior to the pandemic, education technology (edtech) startups faced an uphill battle to prove that their solutions would improve overall learning outcomes. As schools shuttered their doors during the lockdowns and students had no option but to switch to online learning, the necessity of providing digital tools to facilitate both online teaching and learning became paramount.
The pandemic proved to be a boon for edtech, with many investors realising the potential of the sector. The edtech sector witnessed a year-on-year growth of 103 per cent in 2021 compared to the year before, attracting investments of $57 million in 2021 up from $28 million in 2018, with growth at a CAGR of 54 per cent between 2018 and 2021.
But while investor interest has increased, the edtech sector still faces many challenges, with establishments reverting back to old teaching methods and foregoing the digital tools they embraced during the lockdowns.
“Education is one of the biggest challenges in Mena; it has been frozen for decades by heavy non-creative curricula and old-school learning methods. Despite edtech having made significant progress in the region, it still has major other steps to fully disrupt this sector,” says Emilie Thomas, co-founder of oktopi, a UAE-based edtech. “Over the past 200 years, the schooling system hasn’t really evolved to meet the needs of futuristic education that fits modern life.”
While visions of virtual reality (VR) lessons taught by world-class professors to students wearing VR headsets remain elusive, upskilling and reskilling platforms as well as tools that help increase efficiency for educators are gaining popularity.
Founded in 2021 by Emilie Thomas and Fadi Abbas, oktopi is one such startup providing teachers with the tools to create courses online while also providing a marketplace for online courses.
“Our aim at oktopi is to empower educators, giving them the space to decouple from these institutionalised ways of teaching and try new things,” says Thomas. “When we provide them with the needed tools, they can only focus on teaching, which benefits all parties of the educational process.”
The startup does not provide the content or control the courses or curriculum, rather it provides the tools and solutions, and payment methods to facilitate the online/offline learning process which can be provided to schools, teachers, coaches, and trainers, as well as companies that would like to provide their employees with training workshops.
“Teachers should be enabled and empowered, not only financially, but also to be equipped with innovative technology to give a better education experience and to gain the necessary knowledge to pass it to others, then the quality will follow,” she adds.
More educators embracing digital tools and creating their own online courses has created a new type of entrepreneur - the edupreneur.
“Edupreneurs understand these changes, they understand what students and learning communities need in terms of content but most importantly, experiences,” says Thomas. “Edupreneurs need technology to bring this valuable content and learning experiences to their communities.”
There are a host of different platforms for such edupreneurs to develop and sell their courses and so ensuring quality and competitiveness will become incredibly important according to Thomas.
“This is a challenging field; students nowadays have so many channels where they can learn anything, YouTube, TikTok, and Reddit, among other platforms. As an edtech, we are competing with all these platforms to provide as much fun content as they do,” she says. “Now the problem is how to enable instructors to have a quicker, deeper impact, and also personalise both the learning process and the courses and programmes according to each and every student.”
“The [acquistion] aims at building a holistic platform for learning, powered by oktopi’s technology, where edu-preneurs can upscale their business and reach further levels of teaching,” says Thomas, who adds that her startup is eyeing further acquisition opportunities.