Edtech providers probably braced themselves in readiness when, on September 6, 2023, the UK’s Department for Education (DfE) published a list of over 150 schools plagued by collapse-prone reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RACC), which demanded urgent intervention.
Unfortunately, the numbers of schools affected could rise in the coming weeks.
Most of the UK’s affected schools have taken mitigation efforts that have enabled face-to-face learning to take place, while viewing a return to pandemic-style remote learning as an absolute last resort. However, behind this decision lies the long shadow cast by the Covid-19 pandemic, which will influence the education sector for the foreseeable future, with several implications for Edtech providers—businesses that offer technology that facilitates learning—worldwide.
Understanding RACC and its impact on the UK’s schools
RACC, a budget-friendly alternative to conventional concrete, enjoyed popularity in the UK’s public building construction from the 1950s to the 1990s. However, it has a limited 30-year lifespan, and many structures are now past their sell-by date. Following three non-critical incidents, the DfE declared an urgent necessity to assess schools constructed with RACC.
Mitigation strategies employed by the UK’s affected schools
In alignment with the UK government’s guidance, the majority of these schools have implemented strategies allowing in-person learning to take place. For instance, one school erected marquees as temporary teaching spaces.
The UK government has been clear that remote learning should only serve as a last resort after exhausting all alternative options, including temporary or alternative accommodations. Out of the 150-plus affected schools, only four have opted for a complete shift to remote learning, while approximately 15 are relying on hybrid learning models. Notably, a greater proportion have chosen to delay the start of the term altogether.
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Despite the UK’s schools having experience with remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, and contingency plans in place for this eventuality, why is returning to this model of learning viewed as an absolute last resort?
The long shadow of Covid-19: Resistance to the return to remote learning
The resistance of the UK’s affected schools to embrace remote learning once more can be attributed to its association with the traumatic legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic. Remote learning etched an indelible mark on our collective memory, symbolizing an era marked by global lockdowns, loss, isolation, and an abrupt and radical departure from the ordinary.
This sentiment finds expression in remarks from Gillian Keegan, the UK’s Education Minister, who conveyed that the UK’s affected schools were unwilling to “return to the dark days of pandemic-style home learning.” Likewise, headteachers and parents have vividly recounted the “nightmare” of this experience, underscoring how it is “heart-breaking for children still getting over the Covid lockdown” to return to such a learning environment. Research conducted by the NHS underscores the profound toll the Covid-19 pandemic exacted on students’ mental health.
The long shadow of Covid-19 explains why, even amid the UK’s cost-of-living crisis, there has been limited questioning of the UK government’s commitment to fund short-term contingency measures facilitating in-person learning, even with remote learning standing as a readily available alternative.
How the UK’s affected schools’ responses align with broader Edtech trends
The reluctance of the UK’s affected schools to embrace remote learning runs contrary to the overarching trajectory of the global Edtech market, as highlighted in GlobalData’s recent thematic research report on Edtech.
GlobalData predicts that global Edtech revenues will reach $538.5 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 14% between 2019 and 2030, with the trend in education towards hybrid learning. This is backed by research from the Oxford University Press, which found that 98% of global education experts expect a hybrid learning model to become the norm in education delivery. However, there is no guarantee that Edtech will drive uniform change across a traditionally conservative education establishment. The responses of the UK’s affected schools support this.
Takeaways for Edtech providers
Edtech providers can take several lessons from the UK’s school concrete crisis and GlobalData’s insights.
First, Edtech providers should prioritize the development and promotion of hybrid learning solutions given the overall trajectory of the global Edtech market, and work with education establishments and government departments to address some of the resistance to adoption as evident from recent events in the UK.
Edtech providers should also explore strategies to mitigate the adverse effects of social isolation on students’ mental health, which are brought about by at-home learning environments. Augmented reality (AR) offers one viable solution, as AR applications could encourage physical activity and combat isolation by prompting students to take short breaks for physical exercise, fostering healthier at-home learning settings.
Finally, Edtech providers should seize the growth opportunities presented by catering to diverse student demographics. The UK’s Chartered College of Teaching’s February 2021 report revealed that 66% of special educational needs and disability students had not engaged with online learning since classroom closures in March 2020, emphasizing the importance of adaption and inclusivity in Edtech.