The global edtech market may more than double to close to $700bn by 2028. While many commercial platforms aim to keep children engaged on the screen for as long as possible, WiKIT is going a different route.
- CEO and co-founder of WiKIT – 2022 to present
- Professor of early childhood and development, Norwegian Centre for Learning Environment, University of Stavanger, Norway – 2019 to present
- Professor of reading and children’s development, The Open University, UK – 2020 to present
- Various academic positions 2008-2019
- Master of Sciences followed by PhD, Centre for Research in Education and Educational technology, The Open University, UK – 2010-2014
- Bachelor of Sciences, Psychology 1st class degree, University of Bath, UK – 2010-2014
Natalia Kucirkova, a professor of early childhood and development in Norway and the UK, co-founded social enterprise edtech WiKIT last year with the help of the University of Stavanger.
Her main aim: “Make evidence-based edtech available to all children”, Kucirkova, who is also the WiKIT chief executive officer, tells Impact Investor.
Edtech, which is short for education technology, refers to the use of technology to improve education and learning. It aims to improve student engagement and outcomes, provide accessible learning and support teachers with data-driven strategies.
Edtech is “a hugely exciting sector”, Kucirkova says. “With today’s children immersed in technology, there’s enormous potential to provide them with access to knowledge that can enrich their lives.”
The global edtech market has seen strong growth in recent years, and may reach more than $696bn (€637bn) by 2028, from $297bn in 2022, according to a report by Arizton Advisory & Intelligence.
The company name plays on two words: Wiki, or the collaborative platform on the internet, and wicked, as in a “wicked problem” which can only be solved through collaboration between academia and the edtech industry.
On its website, WiKIT describes itself as “a specialist match-making service between top scientists and ethical edtech, seeking to make a difference to children’s learning with educational technology.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has made most parents aware of the potential for online education, “but also of the poor quality of what was available,” Kucirkova says. “If edtech is well designed then it can really add value, particularly in the areas where children need extra support because they have special needs or where economic resources are poor. Edtech can deliver precisely personalised education at scale,” she says.
There is a lot of discussion in the edtech industry around the role of generative artificial intelligence (AI) for supporting children’s content-creation.
“With ethical safeguards, well-curated data, and a defined purpose, there could be exciting possibilities for GenAI applications,” says Kucirkova. “But it is crucial for companies to have a clear intent rather than adopting it only because it’s trendy right now.”
She fears many platforms follow the commercial model of personalisation, which aims to keep children engaged on the screen for as long as possible, repeatedly exposing them to content tailored to children’s preferences, interests, or familiarity. “While this may be gratifying, it falls short in expanding children’s thinking and presenting challenging new ideas” says Kucirkova.
Instead, Kucirkova is focussed on the use of personal data for precisely personalised resources that evolve as a child progresses. In her view, “the core principle of personalise and pluralise from learning sciences is often overlooked in many edtech platforms. The principle is about tailoring content to a child’s current level (personalisation) and introducing new concepts (pluralisation).”
How WiKIT works
WiKIT does not spin out new companies based on research ideas. In Norway that is actually the role of Technology Transfer Offices, such as Valide at the University of Stavanger, which helped spin out WiKIT.
Instead, with a network of the top researchers in the edtech field, WiKIT aims to ensure that collective expertise gets shared across the sector. “These days I work a lot as a matchmaker” says Kucirkova. “Matching the research needs of various edtech companies with the skillsets of researchers and learning scientists in our network”. This involves connecting researchers with subject matter expertise relevant to the specific edtech, such as a math professor for a math teaching platform.
In addition, she tells us “a large part of what we do is impact measurement. Companies and investors come to us for assistance in creating research-based impact metrics.”
These metrics serve as indicators of impact over time, ensuring that relevant data is collected through the technology life cycle, from design and development to use and scale. A science-based approach to data collection allows for accurate conclusions about the progress children make in her view, enabling proper impact statements regarding the edtech company’s influence on children.
“We also evaluate companies for venture capital companies when they’re in the early stage of investment” says Kucirkova. So for example, when “an investor seeks our expertise, we examine whether the product they are considering investing in is grounded in research-backed concepts. Does it stand on some scientific pillars?”
WiKIT’s researchers run a competitor analysis that delves into the scientific foundations within the product, gauging how closely it aligns with the best scientific knowledge regarding what works for children at specific stages of development.
Kucirkova believes “investors have a crucial role to play in the development of edtech, in pushing for better evidence of impact. By this I of course mean impact investors who are not just looking at the maximum return on investment, but also the return on enhancing learning, and the balance between the two.”
Although based in Norway, WiKIT works with investors and companies globally. One of its partners, the venture capital company Bright Eye, works mostly in Europe. Another, Reach Capital, has a major present presence in the US.
Challenges and the future
In Kucirkova’s approach, each child matters in each classroom, making a one-size-fits-all approach impractical. Consequently, a universal evaluation metric for all children or edtech is challenging. “That poses a dilemma concerning global standards and collectively agreed-upon quality assurance criteria. At the policy level we need industry and academia to come together and create a standard which we can all adopt.”
At the moment WiKIT is running new workshops with investors and researchers to make them understand what evidence actually means. The problem is those who “think becoming evidence-based is as simple as paying for certification or a badge. I aim to cultivate an evidence mindset among edtech investors, educators, and developers. I know that developing evidence-based edtech takes time and a lot of work . “ To this end she has developed the Our Story app which she says is “widely popular.”
Kucirkova concludes “it is my big hope that the next generation of edtech will be evidence-based, driven by leaders who showcase the evidence mindset. Step by step through collaboration and patience, we can develop and scale edtech that work for all.”