EdTech companies find it “very, very difficult” to engage with UK schools, MPs are told

Education Sector, Education Select Committee

Priya Lakhani, the founder and CEO of CENTURY Tech, which was among Cohort 1 of the EDUCATE programme, told the cross-party committee of MPs that tech companies find it “very, very difficult” to engage with England’s “fragmented” school system, and said her firm did more business in the Middle East, Africa and US in 14 days than it did in five years in the UK.

She told the inquiry into the Fourth Industrial Revolution that there had been no “coherent response” from the Department for Education to the rise of EdTech development, with headteachers more likely to discuss the issue than government officials, who did not understand how artificial intelligence could be used in education.

Ms Lakhani hailed the work being done on the EDUCATE programme and told the committee there was no lack of will for tech companies to engage in schools. But many were reluctant because they had been “burned” by previous pieces of technology that did not fulfil their promise.

She warned that, without input from schools, artificial intelligence platforms like Century’s could “create social mobility issues”.

“You’ll have, potentially, some of the wealthier children, the more advantaged children using all those great applications that teach them more about their choices, their preferences, the news they want to read. And you potentially have children who are disadvantaged not reaping all the benefits.

“That’s why it’s important that, for example, the educational institutions try and teach children about these particular applications, about AI, about the impact of AI.”

She also called for a review of how pupils are tested in schools, warning that teachers “will always drive their students, because that’s how they’re measured, to those tests”.

Schools do not test for adaptability, creativity, learning agility or empathy, Ms Lakhani warned. “There’s no conversation about a wholesome education, an enriching education. It’s just nonsense, what I see in terms of the curriculum. So much pressure on teachers to deliver something that no employer is going to thank them for.”

The hearing was attended by EDUCATE director, Professor Rose Luckin, who is specialist adviser to the inquiry, and co-founded the Institute for Ethical AI in Education with Ms Lakhani last October.

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