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Broad Congressional Proposal Would Raise Data Privacy Bar for Ed-Tech Companies

broad congressional proposal would raise data privacy bar for ed tech companies
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Broad Congressional Proposal Would Raise Data Privacy Bar for Ed-Tech Companies

A recently released congressional proposal would trigger a swath of new requirements for how ed-tech companies handle K-12 student data they collect, and establish an independent auditing process for their data protection practices.

The drafter of the proposed measure, Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., is seeking input from ed-tech companies and other members of the K-12 community on what language should ultimately be included in final legislation she plans to introduce later this year.

The proposal suggests limiting usage of student data collected by education businesses in several ways, including prohibiting targeted advertising involving students’ personal information, and banning the sale of student data except in cases of company acquisitions and sales of test-score reports for college recruitment.

Trahan presented the proposed language to allow commercial transactions for test score data as one of several points of discussion for parents, educators, students, and industry, as her office works to craft a final bill sometime around early winter, she told EdWeek Market Brief in an interview.

Sale of test score data can be a contentious issue.

Privacy advocates often argue that assessment companies don’t thoroughly inform students and parents when selling data to colleges and scholarship providers. On the flip side, some civil rights advocates  assert that colleges’ purchases of test score data are useful for enrolling students from low-income school districts who may get overlooked by traditional recruitment efforts, Trahan noted.

“I believe that we can strike a thoughtful balance, and making this a point of discussion as we work on an updated draft of the legislation is key to achieving that,” she said.

Commenters have until Oct. 31 to provide input for final legislation to be introduced later this year.

In addition to prohibiting certain uses of student data, the draft legislation also outlines several allowable cases of student data disclosure for companies, including to ensure legal and regulatory compliance, participation in the judicial process, and research purposes allowed by federal or state law.

Trahan wants companies to share their views on the issue of allowable disclosure, including their experiences navigating state laws that trigger disclosure of student information, she said.

Small and midsize companies should also comment on the draft’s provision to establish “technology impact assessments” that examine the student-data collection practices of ed-tech companies, Trahan said.

The draft would task the Federal Trade Commission with organizing a process for technology impact assessments to be conducted by independent auditors of any education company deemed to host “high-risk” platforms for student data protection purposes.

Defining “High-Risk”

The draft bill defines several criteria for what would constitute “high-risk.”

Those  criteria include software platforms that pose a significant risk to privacy or security of students; store personal student information regarding race, national origin, political opinions, religion, sexual orientation, and criminal convictions; and, platforms that present the possibility of an inaccurate, unfair, biased, or discriminatory decision that impacts a student.

The independent technology impact assessments would be required to describe the data that companies collect, provide a risk analysis considering harms to students, discrimination, and accessibility; and, explain companies’ risk mitigation processes.

The draft bill identifies the provision for independent auditors to conduct technology impact assessments as a point of discussion for K-12 stakeholders to have in the leadup to a final bill.

Ed tech, including artificial intelligence-influenced ed tech, is not subject to the same certification requirements as other critical industries, such as the legal and accounting professions, which require many practitioners to undergo continuing education and outside auditing processes, Trahan said.

“Ideally, legislation like ours could provide the incentive to scholars and standards-making bodies to create a certified [ed tech] industry,” she said. “But you don’t arrive there until you hear from small and midsized companies so that we can understand the burden that may come with them hiring potentially expensive, and currently uncertified auditors.”

Though the draft bill  has not been formally introduced in Congress yet, Trahan hopes to work across party lines, as well as with lawmakers interested in relevant tech topics like AI, as her office draws up final legislation. Twenty-seven House lawmakers compose the bipartisan Congressional AI Caucus.

The draft measure is “extremely comprehensive,” and the public participation process will allow the K-12 community to address any potential gaps they might see in the legislation, said Ariel Fox, senior counsel for global policy at Common Sense Media.

Fox lauded the proposal for  establishing a formal process for external audits of companies’ data protection practices. In recent years, such provisions have generally been left out of ed-tech legislation proposed within the U.S.

The impact assessment provisions draw from language embedded in the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, and the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code. Both of those regulations direct companies covered by the regulations to deeply vet how their software impacts users’ privacy.

“A concept that we see a lot in international laws is this notion that companies should really take a hard look at what they’re doing with data, what they’re collecting, why they’re collecting it,” Fox said. “It’s exciting to see that in her proposal as well.”

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New Institute Backed by National Science Foundation to Explore AI’s Role in Education

new institute backed by national science foundation to explore ais role in education
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A ed-tech nonprofit will join four universities in launching a new institute dedicated to creating artificial intelligence tools that can be applied to human learning and education.

The effort is meant to encourage the development of products for use in K-12, influence future AI products made for K-12, and is intended to improve upon past AI technologies that were difficult for teachers to use, said Jeremy Roschelle, executive director of learning sciences research for Digital Promise, the education nonprofit involved in the initiative.

“There’s an emphasis here on what people are calling classroom orchestration – how to help teachers organize for longer-term, more complex, collaborative, problem-solving things,” Roschelle said. “I think the classroom orchestration part, in particular, could be part of a big change in what products people emphasize in the market, and how they support teachers.”

A 5-year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation will support the AI Institute for Engaged Learning, Digital Promise said. Analysts, policymakers, and product developers from Digital Promise will join researchers from North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina, Indiana University, and Vanderbilt University, for the initiative.

The work of the institute will have three main goals:

  1. Created platforms will incorporate story-based problem scenarios fostering communication, teamwork, and creativity.
  2. Platforms will generate AI characters capable of communicating with students through speech, facial expression, gesture, gaze, and posture.
  3. The institute will build a framework that will customize educational scenarios and processes to help students learn, based on information collected from conversations, gaze, facial expressions, gestures, and postures of students as they interact with one another, teachers, and the technology itself.

Schools, museums, and outside nonprofits will work with the institute to ensure created tools are ethically designed and advance diversity, equity and inclusion, according to the announcement.

District officials, and advocates for the ethical use of technology, have raised repeated concerns about potential pitfalls in applying AI-powered technology in schools. One fear is that because AI systems are dependent on collecting large amounts of data and using algorithms to guide policy and classroom practice, they will end up reinforcing racial, gender or other stereotypes.

For example, could an AI-powered curriculum platform, or one that recommends academic interventions for students, end up directing more students of color into remedial coursework, because of biased algorithmic assumptions?  (See Education Week’s recent special report breaking down concerns about AI’s role in classrooms.)

Data Privacy in Focus

A November report by the Center for Integrative Research in Computing and Learning Sciences cites several concerns and considerations come into play when it comes to how AI technologies safeguard student privacy.

How will AI-recorded student conversations and emotional data be used? How long will information be saved? Will it be part of a student’s record? These are all questions that come into play when AI and children interact, the report notes.

AI detection of emotions, through facial expressions, is well-developed, though challenging from a privacy and ethical standpoint, and appropriate policies must still be determined to address these challenges, the report says.

“A very strong focus of this institute … is coming together to really think about how do we tackle some of these issues of privacy, security?” Roschelle said. “None of this is going to fly if people are terrified.”

If AI can be applied creatively and responsibly, it has the power to enrich lessons across subjects, Roschelle said.

He offered an example detailing how forthcoming AI tools might generate story-based situations that promote collaboration and creativity.

Imagine a science class planning a trip to Mars over a three-week period, he said. For the purposes of that trip, they would need to measure gravity, the strength of the Sun’s energy, and air moisture. They would have to plot out measurement devices that they need, the composition of student teams to observe measurements, and what vehicles to bring.

In this case, an effective AI system could “help them along the way whenever they get stuck,” Roschelle said, and “tune the story to the choices they make.”

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Spending on Tech-Based Curriculum Jumps During the Pandemic, New Survey of IT Leaders Finds

spending on tech based curriculum jumps during the pandemic new survey of it leaders finds
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K-12 curriculum software and subscription spending grew at a higher rate than any other technology budget area for school districts last school year, as their IT budgets mostly increased from the previous school year.

In a survey of 170 district technology leaders by the Consortium for School Networking, 62 percent of participants reported their schools’ funding for curricular software/subscriptions rose between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, with 56 percent also noting a spike in cybersecurity investment.

Another 56 percent of respondents said their district’s overall IT budget expanded, with 12 percent citing a “major” increase, according to a summary of the report.CoSNGraph

District technology leaders ranked cybersecurity as the top unmet technology need, followed by home access connectivity and interoperability.

“In a situation where even well-funded corporations in the private sector struggle to address cybersecurity issues, poorly funded districts are at a disadvantage,” CoSN said. “One respondent called the need for more cybersecurity funding as ‘desperate.’”

Cybersecurity has been a focus area for CoSN, which is one of several organizations that endorsed the Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act. That bill would set a path for the federal government to guide best practices for K-12 cybersecurity and provide cybersecurity grants to schools that could benefit certain education companies.

Congressional lawmakers have not acted to advance the bill.

Big Investments in Hybrid Learning

In addition to greater curricular software and cybersecurity spending, the majority of those surveyed also noted new technology initiatives, with 64 percent saying that they added classroom technology to support simultaneous hybrid learning, such as rotating cameras, microphones and speakers; and 60 percent reporting that they now offer a remote-only instruction option.

Further, 37 percent of tech chiefs said they added “district-wide student-facing Cloud-based applications,” such as learning management systems, to their digital ecosystems, and 23 percent of districts gave devices or extra monitors to educators for home use.

Only 2 percent of participants reported not supporting new IT initiatives or existing IT efforts that weren’t already supported pre-pandemic.

Almost all district leaders are looking to the federal government for technology funding help.

About three-quarters of those questioned plan to request support from the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund for Wi-Fi hot spots, while 90 percent of respondents said infusions provided through three stimulus bills enacted over the last 17 months significantly helped remote-learning or related IT initiatives in their districts during the pandemic. (See EdWeek Market Brief’s recent, nationwide survey showing how district officials plan to spend the new, $7 billion connectivity fund overseen by the FCC.)

The three COVID stimulus packages heaped an overall $189.5 billion financial windfall on U.S. K-12 schools. Districts have until Sept. 30, 2024, to commit the last bit of that money.

Compared with the CoSN review, a recent EdWeek Market Brief survey found a slightly lower percentage – 62 percent – of 280 district administrators interviewed, planned to seek ECF reimbursement for Wi-Fi hot spots for home use. However, the CoSN survey did not specify that the hot spots sought for reimbursement pertained only to home use.

“There is a marked shift in how school district IT leaders are preparing for this fall, compared to the back-to-school survey results from last year,” CoSN CEO Keith Krueger said in a statement. “While the federal government delivered critical funding when school districts needed it most, we must now invest in cybersecurity and ensure sustainable, secure and equitable home broadband access for students and educators into the future.”

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Graph provided with permission from the Consortium for School Networking


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Pace of Mergers and Acquisitions in Education Market Jumps, New Analysis Finds

pace of mergers and acquisitions in education market jumps new analysis finds
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The total value of mergers and acquisitions in the education industry grew by more than 50 percent from the second half of 2020 to the first half of this year, as companies across the market rushed to add to their portfolios, according to a report by investment banking firm Berkery Noyes.

The overall number of individual M&A transactions also rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

Education companies closed 240 acquisitions in the first six months of 2021, up from 222 deals in the second half of 2020, and 210 mergers in the first half of last year. There were 238 acquisitions in the education industry in the second half of 2019.M&AGraph

The total value of education acquisitions from January through June was $19.4 billion, largely driven by Platinum Equity’s $6.4-billion acquisition of McGraw Hill, the report noted.

Deals made during this period had nearly as much value as mergers and acquisitions for the full year of 2020, when they totaled $21.4 billion.

The investment group, which provides advice and financial consulting to middle-market companies in the technology and information sectors, tracked 1,152 education deals between 2019 and June 2021.

Private equity financed 40 percent of acquisitions during the first half of this year, 8 percent higher than the 2019-2021 overall average.

According to Berkery Noyes, 97 of the 240 deals during this time frame were financed by private equity, venture capital, or some other investment firm, the most in at least three years and a 131 percent increase over the first half of 2020.

Twelve deals in the first half of this year carried values of more than $100 million, and at least seven of those involved the K-12 sector. About one-third of the total transactions had values between $4.5 million and $54.6 million.

K-12 media and tech surpassed professional training services as the education industry’s most active market segment year-to-date.

There were about 50 acquisitions that involved professional training services and roughly 40 deals that involved K-12 media and tech in the second half of last year, while nearly 60 deals touched K-12 media and tech and about 45 deals covered professional training services in the first half of 2021.

The report showed a mixed picture for market activity in various segments for the first six months of this year compared with the second half of 2020.

The rate of deals in the childcare services and higher-ed media and tech spaces increased during this span, but the number of deals in professional training technology, higher-ed institutions, and K-20 services fell. Deals involving K-12 institutions remained stable.

In addition to the McGraw Hill acquisition, notable K-12 deals in the first half of 2021 included a Byju’s purchase of Indian tutoring provider Aakash Educational Services for $900 million, Renaissance’s $650 million acquisition of Nearpod, and Kahoot’s $435 billion addition of K-12 single-sign-on provider Clever.

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Sales of K-12 Instructional Materials Soaring, New Industry Estimates Show

sales of k 12 instructional materials soaring new industry estimates show
MB Market Trends May 20

Pre-K-12 instructional materials are just one slice of a publishing industry that broadly thrived over the past year.

Data released last week by the Association of American Publishers show that sales of educational instructional materials in March more than doubled, year over year.

Overall educational revenues for instructional materials climbed by $111.7 million, while revenues for pre-K-12 resources reached $61.4 million in March —  an 82 percent jump over a year ago.

Sales of higher education course materials rose even more sharply, reaching $50.4 million in March, a 179 percent increase over the previous year.

Education publishers’ gains over the past year have come at a time when public and private investment in education markets has soared. Federal lawmakers have approved three different stimulus measures, the most recent of which will channel $130 million into K-12 education. Venture capitalists poured $16.1 billion total into ed tech in 2020, $7.9 billion more than the previous record set in 2018.

One factor driving the increases in education publishers’ revenues: Two of the three largest state markets for vendors in terms of student population – Texas and Florida – purchased significantly more instructional materials this March than a year ago, according to AAP’s PreK-12 Books & Materials Monthly Report for March 2021.

Florida and Texas K-12 leaders bought $8.5 million and $2.3 million worth of pedagogical materials, respectively, showing increases of 331 percent and 137 percent over March 2020.

On the other hand, sales of instructional materials in California, the state with the largest K-12 population, dropped from $6.1 million to $3.9 million.

In addition to higher monthly sales, Florida also generated a sizable increase in revenues for instructional materials across the full years of 2019 and 2020, growing from $6.9 million to $11.4 million. During the same period, annual sales for California fell from $12.1 million to $10.1 million, and yearly sales for Texas declined from $7.8 million to $7.2 million.

The educational sales data account for materials covering reading and language arts, science, social studies, math, English as a second language, career and technical education, as well as miscellaneous other subject areas.

Other segments of the publishing industry have also seen their revenues increase over the past year. Consumer books grossed $743.9 million in March, a 34.2-percent increase year-over-year, while professional books generated $33.1 million, a 33.2-percent gain.

AAP released the information based on questionnaires they sent to publishers, the group said. The monthly reports draw revenue data from approximately 1,300 publishers.

Publishing sales for this year are more comparable to 2017-2019 levels than to industry revenues last year, which was a “tough” time for the industry, AAP said.

School buildings across the U.S. started closing in March 2020 amid the initial onslaught of COVID-19, forcing districts to quickly pivot away from traditional instructional methods and swiftly reprioritize their spending.

Though the publishing industry posted striking growth rates in March, the industry typically sees stronger performance over the summer, and so the next few months will provide a better indicator of the sector’s resilience, according to the AAP.

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Why Do Ed-Tech Products Soar in Some Districts, But Flop in Others?

why do ed tech products soar in some districts but flop in others
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The EdTech Genome Project aims to give districts more accurate, granular comparisons of what ed-tech products work in what kinds of schools.

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‘Global Education Recovery Tracker’ Offers Country-by-Country Status on School Reopening

global education recovery tracker offers country by country status on school reopening
GlobalEducationTracker
Johns Hopkins University, World Bank & UNICEF (2021). COVID-19 Global Education Recovery Tracker. Last updated as of 24 March 2021. Baltimore, Washington DC, New York: JHU, World Bank, UNICEF.

Three organizations with a major focus on education have developed a tool that tracks and displays school reopening and recovery planning efforts in over 200 countries and territories.

The World Bank, Johns Hopkins University, and UNICEF have unveiled the COVID-19 Global Education Recovery Tracker.

The online database breaks countries into six reopening categories: in-person education; hybrid/remote education; combination of in-person, hybrid, remote, and closed; schools closed due to a regular school calendar closure; completely closed; and, unknown status/data not available.

The tracker also includes U.S. state-by-state and country-by-country information on the status of vaccine availability for teachers.

“The world was facing a learning crisis before COVID-19,” World Bank Global Director for Education Jaime Saavedra said in a statement. “The learning poverty rate – the proportion of 10-year-olds unable to read a short, age-appropriate text – was 53 percent in low- and middle-income countries prior to COVID-19, compared to only 9 percent for high-income countries.”

These divides have gotten even worse during the pandemic, and COVID-19-related school closures are likely to raise the learning poverty rate by another 10 percent, Saavedra said.

Data through early March show that 51 countries have fully returned to in-person education, and that in over 90 countries, students are being instructed through multiple modes, with some schools open, others closed, and many offering hybrid learning options, an announcement by the organizations states.

Researchers from the World Bank, Johns Hopkins, and UNICEF each have subsets of countries for which they’re responsible for compiling data, which is gleaned from publicly available sources, including government data and news sources, said Megan Collins, a bioethicist, pediatric ophthalmologist and professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University, who is also a leader of the education recovery tracker project.

Information gleaned from news stories needs to be accompanied by at least one other source for validation, she said.

After researchers gather the data, on a bimonthly basis, the team looks through and validates the data, after which researchers answer survey questions intended to decipher the status of school reopenings and the prioritization of groups considered more vulnerable to contracting the disease, such as teachers, Collins said.

“The survey is broken down into, ‘Are schools in the country open or closed right now? Are teachers being vaccinated as a priority group? Yes or no,” Collins said.

“’If schools are in person, what types of learning modalities are being employed? If schools are virtual, what types of learning modalities are being employed?’”

As of March 24, the U.S., Australia, Japan, Germany, and Argentina, were among the major education markets whose schools were operating with a combination of in-person, hybrid, remote, and closed classrooms.

Fully Open Schools in Russia, France, Spain

Meanwhile, the major markets of Brazil, Mexico, India, Sweden, Norway, and Saudi Arabia were either combining remote and in-person instruction and/or their students were exclusively learning remotely.

The U.K., Russia, France, Spain, and Ethiopia, were among the countries where schools are fully open and students have returned for in-person instruction.

“Institutions like the World Bank are helping developing countries’ education systems by providing the evidence to understand where investments are likely to be most impactful,” World Bank Education Global Practice senior operations officer Kali Azzi-Huck and World Bank senior education specialist Tigran Shmis said in an email.

“This tracker helps us to gather critical data and provide advice on country policies to tackle learning loss and accelerate learning in countries.”

Many education companies in recent years have taken a growing interest in exploring international markets outside their home countries. Those ambitions have been fueled by several factors, including the ease of delivering products and services via ed tech, rising income levels in developing nations, and the hunger for new forms of online learning during the pandemic.

Another resource released by the World Bank, Johns Hopkins and UNICEF, shows country-by-country school status/education modality, along with whether that country has authorized COVID-19 vaccines and whether teachers are currently being vaccinated as a priority group.

One revealing takeaway from the tracker is that teachers in low- and middle-income countries are largely not being vaccinated against COVID-19, and that two-thirds of the 130 countries where vaccine information was available are not currently vaccinating teachers as a priority group.

A few of the challenges that the organizations have faced when standing up and updating this resource include the lag between the time of data collection and publication, mostly due to the breadth and complexity of the data; as well as the inability to get granular data, Collins said.

The tracker is “an amazing opportunity to look at what’s happening globally,” she said. “But it certainly does not have the capabilities to dive down to the level of what’s happening for fourth graders living in a certain district of a certain school system in India.”

Collins said Johns Hopkins has been “uniquely positioned” to provide information during the pandemic, noting that her Hopkins team that is working on the tracker organically formed a year ago to think about ways to help children, initially releasing a tracker looking at school reopenings in the U.S.

“For kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, they’re going to be impacted much more severely,” she said.

“As we’ve had schools thinking about reopening or recovery, what are the students going to need, and what are students going to need the most? [We’ve been] doing issue-spotting, hopefully for educators and policymakers to think about providing the actual resources that are needed.”

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Where Venture Capitalists Are Investing as Districts Shift to In-Person Education

where venture capitalists are investing as districts shift to in person education
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Investors are putting a premium on companies that have the products and expertise to span distance learning and a return to in-person lessons.

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Global Spending on Virtual Reality, AI in Education Poised to Skyrocket, Report Says

global spending on virtual reality ai in education poised to skyrocket report says

Global spending on artificial and virtual reality in education is expected to soar from $1.8 billion to $12.6 billion annually over the next four years, a new analysis projects.

Spending on artificial intelligence in education, meanwhile, will jump from $800 million to $6.1 billion yearly over that same period, according to the report released recently by HolonIQ, a global research and intelligence firm.

The report made several projections for global ed-tech expenditures in K-12, higher education, and corporate training through 2025. Those include forecasts of total education spending, upskilling, spending on digital technologies as a proportion of total education spending, and venture capital investment.

“AR/VR is coming down the stack from workforce into higher ed, and is slowly making its way into K-12,” Patrick Brothers, the co-CEO and co-founder of HolonIQ, said in an interview.

Augmented and virtual reality has seen only modest uptake yet in K-12 because there’s a big learning curve for students and teachers to become familiar with the technologies, and because their use will take some time to catch on, he said.

Other areas of advanced technology figure to see significant growth in expenditures through 2025, include robotics and blockchain, according to the report. It projects that the total spent on robotics will rise from $1.3 billion in 2018 to $3.1 billion in 2025, and that the total spent on blockchain will rise from $100 million in 2018 to $600 million in 2025.

HolonIQ
HolonIQ

The biggest driver for the use of blockchain in education is a desire for secure and scalable credentialing, while the biggest spark behind the use of robotics in education is schools looking for different ways to engage learners in STEM fields, Brothers said.

HolonIQ forecasts overall global spending on ed-tech to rise from $227 billion in 2020 to $404 billion in 2025.

Currently, spending on digital technologies makes up just 3.6 percent of total expenditures in the areas of K-12, higher ed, and corporate training. In 2025, that percentage is expected to rise to a higher but still small level of 5.2 percent of overall spending.

“While the longer term impact of COVID-19 on education models is yet to play out, over the next few years we expect an upswing of spending on digital infrastructure in education and greater spending over the long term in new digital models,” the report states.

HolonIQ defines spending in the report as governments, companies, and consumers devoting money to a learning product or service. That distinguishes it from education investments, which are characterized by the supplying of capital in exchange for a stake in a company, Brothers said.

The report also notes that global ed-tech venture capital funding has risen from its previous record of $8.2 billion in 2018 to $16.1 billion in 2020, with Chinese companies occupying the largest share of funding compared with other countries.

Investment in educationwill continue to grow, but is not evenly spread across the globe and weighted heavily towards late-stage mega-rounds,” the report says.

Chinese ed-tech companies saw $26.8 billion in venture capital investment between 2010 and 2020, while U.S. companies saw $13 billion invested in the same period.

Overall, HolonIQ projects that total global education spending will rise from an estimated total of $5.4 trillion in 2020 to a total of $7.3 trillion in 2025, noting that education composes over 6 percent of global GDP.

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Inside One District’s Effort to Bring Internet to Disconnected Students

inside one districts effort to bring internet to disconnected students
MB K 12 Insider Feb 4

One of the biggest challenges facing school districts during the pandemic is also one of those most fundamental — they have many students who don’t have reliable internet access.

The Killeen Independent School District in central Texas has taken a multifaceted approach to solving that problem.John Hocking is director of network and…

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