Expert opinions, STARTUPS

National Technological Initiative and the future of educational startups

In education, a startup needs to be profitable here and now because it can hardly count on investors. Long-term projects are unlikely to help in the current situation, so those are not an option either. A business that needs government support is not a business. Neither there is reason to expect a liberalization of the education system.

However, the picture is not that gloomy. NTI 2.0 – a program that brings together business representatives and expert communities to update their common vision of new markets – can play an important role in the development of educational services and technologies and the formation of the EdTech community.

In previous years, many startups and young projects were sustained with investor money while waiting for the day they would make a profit. But things have changed dramatically; this will no longer be an option for the next five years. In the new environment, a business will have to be profitable here and now to survive. This is the only thing that really makes sense now. If you have no money, no long-term projects will help you stay afloat.

This raises the obvious question – what areas should EdTech teams focus on to develop their business? Futurology has become extremely complicated in the last two months with things changing so rapidly; yet, there are several areas where one can still be confident.

1. Additional educational services within the regular grade school curriculum will definitely remain a valid market niche – a protective buffer against the flaws of official schooling. Until schools provide the high quality of education parents desire they will be looking for other ways to give their children a better start in life.

2. Any program that makes up for the shortage of digital economy professionals among university graduates will be relevant – any service that trains participants in digital professions, offers professional growth or retraining. The crisis we have just entered will push people to look for jobs, while the shortage of jobs will encourage them to look for something new.

3. The demand for training children in computer programming will also grow.

4. The demand for skill verification services will grow because employers will need to promptly check that candidates possess the necessary skills and knowledge.

All this is related to concrete areas that will remain relevant. But if we consider the picture strategically, we will see that there is a sweeping lack of expertise everywhere: in making decisions, planning family budgets, perceiving information and fake news, in how people think and how they choose the candidate to vote for.

In this sense, the objective of education is to train people to think. Even though it is not in demand now, it is necessary to deal with it one way or another and to increase the number of people who can think in a professional way.

In its time, the NTI played an important role in developing networking of the initiative’s member projects. The opportunity to communicate with the state and market players at various levels helped us and the others to develop more actively. If it was not for the NTI, we would have been much smaller, and would not be able to provide the assistance that EdTech companies are currently providing to the state in solving the education collapse problem.

In addition to the development of society, the initiative can bring a very important thing to the EdTech industry that the current economy does not have yet: I am talking about outlining long-term rules of the game. The conditions are changing way too fast; too many immediate decisions are being made on the principle ‘when push comes to shove.’

Any business can adapt to any conditions and be completely sufficient if it receives assistance in one thing: to outline the game rules. If a business knows what important changes will be adopted no sooner than, say, two years, it can operate normally. Otherwise, it would be strongly affected.

Another important issue dealing with which would be beneficial to the industry is related to the community expertise which should be done not for a show. Officials keep thinking that they know everything, including what regards the education sector, but their incompetence and unprofessionalism are the same as everywhere.

If it could be done as part of the NTI, it would be good and it would be the exact assistance the market needs. Everything else is up to businesses themselves.

By Alexander Laryanovsky, Managing Partner at Skyeng School

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