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Education in the Nordics is looking to harness the best of innovation to enhance learning curriculums, systems and processes.
Teaching tools, interactive gadgets and digital aids are now commonplace and there are companies on hand to facilitate this trend, and the onus is on the education system to relinquish a bit of its traditional control.
Naturally, in the Nordics, there are innovative startups helping to boost the education technology (edtech) space on both sides of the fence.
Within schools, colleges and universities, Mentimeter’s interactive presentation platform allows real-time interaction between presenters and their audience. When used as a “classroom response system”, the platform is aimed at enhancing student learning and interaction between staff and students.
Designed to improve debates, discussions and, most importantly, the fluidity of how such learning can take place, Mentimeter is a prime example of the education sector’s general willingness to embrace digital intervention.
“Our aim is to make presentations and classroom environments more fun and innovative, which will not only improve learning outcomes, but also make it easier for everyone to get their voice heard,” said Johnny Warström, Mentimeter’s CEO and co-founder. “As such, we haven’t really experienced much resistance from educational institutions. It has been quite the opposite – schools, universities and all other educational entities have embraced new ways of presenting and are seeing the benefits of it.
“If digital solutions offer an added value to teachers and institutions, they are more likely to embrace new ways of working as it improves the teaching and learning process. Human interaction and face-to-face learning will not disappear, in my opinion, but digital tools can facilitate and enhance learning and teaching.”
Mentimeter’s platform has made an impact in many grades of learning in the Nordics, but has mainly been adopted for older students in higher education.
Conversely, more conflict in the edtech space is found among younger-age students as they embark on their education journeys. At this age, not all students respond favourably or successfully to traditional teaching methods, creating a market gap for digital startups to find new and intuitive ways to reach children.
Reading through gameplay
One exponent of this notion is Poio, a company whose digital tool encourages reading through gameplay and has so far helped more than 100,000 Scandinavian children. The idea arose from the personal experience of the company’s founder, Daniel Senn, when his son was born with hearing difficulties and needed a more bespoke way of learning to read.
“Our vision is to encourage every child to master and enjoy reading, and the way you introduce the idea of reading is a key aspect of how that transpires, and how successful it will be,” said Senn. “This was a personal motivation that is also compatible with what every parent and teacher wants for children in their care.”
However, as Senn has found out, it’s not what every teacher or educational institution wants for children in terms of the learning methodology.
“Our competition is almost exclusively digitised schoolbooks, which are organised around pages and tasks and sequences,” said Senn. “We create a game in their place – characters and things you can play with and understand.
“Our books aren’t even readable to begin with but as the children learn how the game works, suddenly they learn.”
Senn says children at that age often find it frustrating and unconducive to be taught in formulaic, structured ways, and digital startups outside the educational system bring a sense of creativity and personalisation to the process – attitudes that both parents and teachers have been wary of adopting.
“I think it’s still a cultural shock for adults – and we still see this even though we’ve been a success,” said Senn. “School teaching is very traditional and centred around group learning, but companies like us in the edtech space can be bigger on personal learning, where students develop at their own tempo in line with their own individual preferences.
“We will hopefully go some way to reducing the friction between the two ideas, as there’s certainly room for both to give children the most rounded education possible.”
The edtech alternative
The question of whether edtech companies are complementing and improving the education system, or clashing with it, is relevant, but certainly not a deal-breaker in the Nordics. As both Senn and Warström emphasised, companies in this space are not setting out to champion a side or cause disparity. They are doing so to improve the overall education process, using innovations that evolve the entire learning spectrum.
Whether children are beginning the learning process and need a little more flexibility both inside and outside the classroom, or they are in higher education and need the more traditional institutions to become more creative inside the lecture halls, the overriding notion is that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.
Educational institutions need to put the concept of “public service versus enterprise” out of their minds, and embrace a ready and willing array of startups looking to facilitate a new, diverse and creative educational journey, from first graders to graduates.
As ever, the Nordics are likely to lead the way in demonstrating to the rest of the world how this can be achieved.
“We already have a culture of respect here at least,” said Senn. “A respect for children having a playful and enjoyable approach to learning, with tech a huge part of that model, both inside and outside of schools.”
Warström added: “I believe we have developed a well-working and dynamic ecosystem within the tech sector, which also applies to edtech scene. Sweden recently launched its first co-working edtech hub just outside Stockholm, called Beyond, as evidence of this, and we believe edtech innovations will have a powerful and positive impact on the education system moving forward.”