BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

The tech industry has completed its job of eating the media industry. Just ask the Media 24 journalists whose jobs are on the line partly because of Covid-19 but mainly due to the decline of advertising (thanks to tech giants) for media entities. The next target is the education (both secondary and tertiary) sector. As Covid-19 accelerates the adoption of online education, those that stand to  benefit more are the tech industry giants. Technology companies have spent years on the fringes of the classroom, funding software, cloud computing, and tech and maths programmes in schools, and are even more embedded in research departments.

Microsoft South Africa has recently partnered with a South African telecoms company, Vodacom, to provide access to continuous, connected digital learning for South Africa’s education institutions, educators and learners through their Connected Digital Education initiative. The Connected Digital Education Platform will enable educators to continue  to deliver classes to their learners, who can participate through chat or voice using a SIM card where access to Teams is provided for free, allowing them to continue learning regardless of where they are or what device they are using – whether it be an Android, iOS or Windows smartphone, tablet or laptop.

On the other hand, Google has also announced that Google Meet (previously known as Hangout) is adding new features later this year to help teachers and lecturers improve remote and hybrid learning through better moderation and more interactivity. The features are being added as more than 140 million teachers and students are now using G Suite for Education, according to Google figures. Google Classroom has become one of the major tools used in schools to enable access to learning.

Facebook is a lesser known entity in the education landscape. The reality however is that Facebook is slowly building its own education empire via acquisitions. In India, he social media juggernaut announced it had partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education, a government body that oversees  education in private and public schools in India, to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being, and augmented reality for students and educators in the country. Facebook and CBSE, it’s claimed, aims to prepare secondary school students for current and emerging jobs, and help them develop skills to safely browse the internet, make “well-informed choices” and think about their mental health. In the first phase, Facebook is planning to train more than 10 000 teachers, and in the second phase, they will coach 30,000 students. 

The three-week training on AR will cover fundamentals of the nascent technology, and ways to make use of Facebook’s Spark AR Studio to create augmented reality experiences. To understand Facebook’s interest in education, you have to watch an Indian online learning platform which is a Facebook backed ed-tech company. Unacademy has acquired Chandigarh-based startup PrepLadder for $50 million. PrepLadder, employs about 150 people, offers courses aimed at medical students. The two-year-old startup has more than 80 000 subscribers. It’s clear that the tech industry has its sights on education in the same way that it did for the media industry. 

The education sector has to learn a lot from the media sector errors in technology adoption. The education sector should do everything in its power to not cede control to global technology giants. While the impact on the media industry is known, the impact on education is not yet known but it can be safely assumed that it will not be different if the current status quo remains. If the behaviour of tech giants in the media space is any indication of what’s coming, the education sector has to be very concerned.The big edu-tech opportunity should not be another opportunity to enrich global tech giants. It should be an opportunity to build new local ed-tech companies. Rules of engagement should be setup in such a way that the education sector is not negatively impacted by the entry of technology in the classroom.