Against “EdTech”…

Sitting in on a recent donor-stakeholder discussion about the use of ICTs to support education for poor people in developing countries, inspired me to formalize my critical thoughts on the increasingly common usage of the term “EdTech”.   There are three main reasons why this terminology is so problematic:

  • children-in-malawi-schoolFirst, the term EdTech places the emphasis on the technology rather than the educational and learning outcomes. Far too many initiatives that have sought to introduce technology systematically into education have failed because they have focused on the technology rather than on the the education.  The use of the term EdTech therefore places emphasis on a failed way of thinking.  Technology will only be of benefit for poor and marginalized people if it is used to deliver real learning outcomes, and this is the core intended outcome of any initiative. It is the learning that matters, rather than the technology.
  • jica-stm-ptc-computersSecond, it implies that there is such a thing as Educational Technology. The reality is that most technology that is used in schools or for education more widely has very little to do specifically with education or learning.  Word processing and presentational software, spreadsheets, and networking software are nothing specifically to do with education, although they are usually what is taught to teachers in terms of IT skills! Such software is, after all, usually called Office software, as in Microsoft Office, or Open Office. Likewise, on the hardware side, computers, mobile phones and electronic whiteboards are not specifically educational but are rather more general pieces of technology that companies produce to generate a profit.  Learning content, be it open or proprietary, is perhaps the nearest specifically educational technology that there is, but people rarely even think of this when they use the term EdTech!
  • intel-classmate-zambia-2010Third, it is fascinating to consider why the term EdTech has been introduced to replace others such as e-learning or ICT for education (ICT4E) which clearly place the emphasis on the learning and the education.  The main reason for this is that the terminology largely reflects the interests of private sector technology companies, and especially those from the US. The interests underlying the terminology are a fundamental part of the problem.  EdTech is being used and sold as a concept primarily so that companies can sell technology that has little specifically to do with education, and indeed so that researchers can be funded to study its impact!


Those who use the term EdTech are all conspiring to place the emphasis on the technology rather than on the education.  This is often deliberate, but always misguided!  Many of those who use the term are also concerned primarily in generating profits from education rather than delivering effective, life-changing opportunities for people to learn.  If you ever use the word again, please think twice about it, and preferably use something more appropriate!



Filed under Development, Education, ICT4D

4 responses to “Against “EdTech”…

  1. Guy Cowley

    Somewhat one-eyed! How do you conclude that “ICT for Education” focuses on education whereas “EdTech” focuses on tech?

    • unwin

      Because ICT for education explicitly says it is “for” education and thus places the emphasis on education, whereas EdTech (at least in my understanding and most of those with whom I have spoken about it agree) places the emphasis on the technology as it is short for “educational technology”. Perhaps a bit semantic, but these differences really matter!

  2. I think it’s interesting that “ICT for Education” was primarily a term used in the development sector, whereas EdTech is used more widely – in the global North, at conferences about schools/colleges in the UK etc. This is not necessarily good or bad, but does imply an increasing lack of awareness of the specific challenges facing poorer countries (infrastructure, literacy, lack of teachers etc.) that aren’t really an issue in the US/Europe.

    On a slight tangent, what bothers me more is the idea that somehow EdTech is something new or interesting… I used to manage the E-Learning team at Cisco about 10 years ago – which was widely considered to be the world leader at the time. What was “new and exciting” then was basically serving up re-hashed offline content (text, images, videos) with a few simple quizzes at the end, but with a sophisticated Learning Management System to ‘personalise’ learning by creating learning ‘maps’ to guide a student through the curriculum.

    Even back then this was a shock to me as it was all a bit “meh… THIS is world leading!?!?”…

    Now… 10 years on… I’ve yet to see anything more advanced…

    Lots of work on tracking, on data, on personalisation… Virtually nothing on creating rich blended learning environments, on experimenting with truly innovative technology to allow people to learn in different ways, nothing more advanced than personalised maps/pathways to put people in control of their own learning…

    I would love to stand corrected… Someone please tell me I have missed a ton of amazing exciting innovative developments in EdTech (the sector formerly known as ICT for Education… the sector formerly known as E-Learning… let’s be honest, the sector formerly known as Edutainment CD-ROMs, it hasn’t changed since then!)


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