Innovating in Times of Transformation
School Innovation Forum 2023
The 2023 edition of the School Innovation Forum was held on June 6-7 in Brussels under the theme "Innovating in times of transformation". The annual event gathered over 130 education stakeholders for two days of discussions on the present challenges and future opportunities of K12 education in Europe, particularly with respect to technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Attendees had the chance to hear observations and viewpoints from European and national policymakers, EdTech industry partners, education researchers and members of the academia.
In his opening speech European Schoolnet's Executive Director Marc Durando highlighted the organisation's firm commitment to the mission of the Future Classroom Lab initiative to provide all education stakeholders with a space to test new approaches to teaching and learning and a community to discuss these new approaches with. Mr. Durando also announced the launch of European Schoolnet's latest report, "Accelerating EdTech Start-Ups in Europe", and the organisation's participation in the EmpowerED, a new EU-funded project designed to create a pan-European network for exchanges between European EdTech initiatives, support organisations, practitioners, and policymakers.
The state-of-play in European EdTech
Jill Attewell, Director at Technology & Learning Professional Associates and author of the new European Shoolnet report, offered an overview of the EdTech start-ups landscape in Europe and identified current trends and future potentialities. Although trends are positive in Europe, two particular challenges were mentioned - the shortage of incubators and accelerator programmes that nurture and mentor start-ups, and the lack of opportunities for start-ups to test and pilot their solutions in schools across Europe. The sector could further benefit from more exposure, mapping, and engagement with policymakers at regional, national, and European levels.
Beth Havinga, Managing Director of European EdTech Alliance, presented the European EdTech Map, an overview of the diversity of EdTech start-ups in Europe which offers interested parties a one-stop solution to finding like-minded partners and fostering collaborations. She noted that 68% of the existing European EdTech companies have no international sales, meaning that the majority of them focus their efforts exclusively on solving issues experienced within their respective communities. She also mentioned that there is a significant female gap in the sector and reiterated that all European EdTech companies can benefit from a more unified approach to the sector and improved findability.
A Need for a Multi-Stakeholder Approach
The Forum participants were also addressed by EU policymakers Georgi Dimitrov, Head of Unit - Digital Education, DG EAC, and Rehana Schwinninger-Ladak, Head of Unit - Interactive technologies, Digital for Culture and Education, DG CONNECT. Mr. Dimitrov spoke about the two proposals the Commission has put forward on the general readiness of schools to adapt to the digital age in terms of connectivity and infrastructure and on the need to adhere to an evidence-based and pedagogically proven approach to introducing digital tools in education. Ms. Schwinninger-Ladak further spoke about the importance of a whole-government approach, peer-learning, cooperation with the private sector. She advocated for a more strategic and sustainable approach to the modernization of education.
The Risks & Opportunities of AI in Education
Members of the academia were also invited to share their perspectives on the role of technology and AI in education. In his keynote address, Wayne Holmes, Associate Professor in the UCL Knowledge Lab, University College London, noted that with the growing catalogue of EdTech solutions there is a parallel increase in the need for more information for policymakers as well as teachers on what these tools do and how they can be utilised to further pedagogical purposes. He acquainted the participants with the way AI can be used in education from an institutional, teacher and student perspectives and advocated for an increased focus on the ethical and human rights aspects of EdTech. Finally, he proposed that the process of introducing AI in education is undertaken from the perspective of what problems exist and how AI can solve them rather than what AI is able to do at the moment and how that can be included in teaching and learning processes.
Inge Molnaar, Director of the National Education Lab AI in the Netherlands, in her keynote address, further elaborated with a few examples of how Generative AI can be implemented in education settings. It could be included in collaborative forms of teaching and learning to increase student engagement and improve learning outcomes and it could be used as a teaching assistant where teachers use the tool to generate lesson plans or additional classroom activities. However, she cautioned, we should be careful with what information goes into AI's "black box" and who controls the tool.
Kyle Thornton, Education Sector Lead, Cisco Foundation, shared with the audience some of Cisco's initiatives on supporting educational innovation and in particular, programmes around investment in teacher skills and teachers' tech confidence such as the STEM Discovery Campaign organized in partnership with European Schoolnet and the STEM Alliance. As more and more jobs require good digital skills, implementing EdTech solutions in the classroom can assist pupils with feeling confident that they can navigate the labour market of the future successfully.
The Road Ahead
The Forum also hosted three roundtables and four parallel sessions which explored different aspects of the role of technology and AI in education from policy, industry, and research perspectives such as the importance of fostering computational thinking and ICT skills in K12 learners, the need to develop science-literate citizens through increased emphasis on STEM education; to empower education with multistakeholder collaboration and technology, and to design effective and sustainable digital education plans.
The consensus between the participants was that introducing digital solutions in the classroom can support educational innovation and the development of vital digital skills needed for the labour market of the 21st century. However, there is a need to be vigilant to ensure safeguards against ethical and human rights abuses are put in place. Data privacy and audit emerged as a shared concern among stakeholders. Public-private cooperation in the education sector requires trust but the existing frameworks lacked sufficient monitoring mechanisms, a gap that the European Commission's AI Act, GDPR, Data Governance Act are intended to fill.
The second point that all stakeholders united around was that investing in teacher professional development is key. All roundtable participants expressed firm support for the idea that the whole education system can benefit from teachers having the time and resources to develop their own digital skills and experiment with new approaches to teaching and learning. They emphasized the importance of having experimental spaces such as the Future Classroom Lab where different stakeholders can come together to try and test new approaches in a safe way.
Thirdly, the attendees recognised the importance of a multi-stakeholder approach but acknowledged that currently, more platforms for collaboration and exchanges between the public and private sectors are needed. In particular, there is insufficient information about how private companies and government institutions can cooperate to maximise the potential benefits of digitalising education. Additionally, more information on best practices and opportunities for upscaling of successful pilots will benefit the development of the EdTech sector and support the implementation of pedagogically effective tools in schools.
Closing the forum, Jan de Craemer, European Schoolnet's Chair, addressed the audience reaffirming the organisation's commitment to providing platforms for exchange of best practices, new ideas and resources that support all stakeholders in navigating innovation in times of transformation. In conclusion, he advocated for a continued exploration of the potential benefits of introducing technology such as AI in education but cautioned that this should take place in a responsible, balanced, and practical manner.
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