Nordic EdTech News #45 : 2021-06-21

Your Week 23 and 24 update from the Nordic & Baltic EdTech ecosystem

For many Nordic EdTech businesses, growing and scaling outside their national and regional markets represents some of their biggest challenges. It’s super encouraging to therefore highlight two high-growth, disruptive businesses that have received significant funding in the last two weeks to accelerate their growth in the US. Firstly eloomi, HQ in Copenhagen, announced a $55 million strategic investment from private equity company Great Hill Partners to scale their SaaS corporate learning and performance management platform. Kognity, HQ in Stockholm, then detailed a raise of $20 million from Alfvén & Didrikson to enter the US high school market (Link).

Whilst on internationalisation, Brighteye Ventures are doing a benchmark study on the topic and would love your insights. 14 questions, 10 minutes - please do contribute here!

Interesting to also note that the global trend of private equity firms buying EdTech companies (see Ellucian and McGraw-Hill Education recently) from other private equity firms is being mirrored in the Nordics. Infinitas Learning, parent company of Liber, announced that it would be sold by Compass Partners to Dutch investment firm, NPM Capital. Trill Impact also confirmed last week that it had signed an agreement to acquire ILT Inläsningstjänst from Priveq (Link).

The recently-published OECD Digital Education Outlook 2021 provides compelling insight into future global education trends. Will it, the report asks, push on towards AI, blockchain and robot technologies or fall back to old, familiar ways? Evidently, this vision is still distant for many countries globally - Teach millions’ commitment to UNESCO's Global Education Coalition puts their platform and Nordic EdTech at the heart of the solution. Find out more here.

The European Edtech Alliance officially launched on 8th June - a recording of the launch event is now available here. Please do sign up for their newsletter (which I’m also proud to be producing!) to keep on top of the wider European EdTech ecosystem.

Next Monday’s Nordic EdTech News Interview will be with Steve Tucker, CEO of itslearning. And if you missed last week’s interview with Jon Gunnar Thordarson, CEO at Mussila, you can read it in full here.

Finally, don’t miss The Anywhere School 2021 from Google for Education - 23rd June.

If you read this newsletter for Nordic EdTech analysis and insight, you may be interested to know that I offer consultancy services. Want to find out more about my advisory work helping to build great EdTech businesses? Let’s talk.

As always, do let me know if you’ve got any feedback or a story to include in a future issue of this newsletter by emailing hello@10digits.org. Sharing this email with your network is also always much appreciated!

Best regards, Jonathan

News from Denmark

  • EdTech Denmark criticizes government plans to relocate education institutions from large cities to the provinces pointing out that the opportunities for digital learning have been “completely overlooked”. (Danish)

  • Danish Government publishes white paper on the role of “the tech giants” so that “children and young people can have a safe childhood in good balance between the digital world and the physical world.”

  • Interesting research from Alinea on how teachers find out about digital teaching resources - again highlighting the power of teacher advocacy. (Link)

  • Great to see that Sahra-Josephine Hjorth, Co-founder and CEO of CanopyLAB, has been elected Vice-Chairman of DI Digital. (Link)

  • Shape Robotics sign distribution agreement with Christiani in Germany. (Dan)

News from Estonia

  • N8 Chair, Märt Aro, gave an interview to Estonian radio on the need to develop education and the role of EdTech in supporting this. (Est)

  • Feedback from teachers and students about their experience of using Clanbeat to support wellbeing. (Link)

  • Edumus raise €180K from Estonian and Finnish angel investors to accelerate its growth (Link) and announces plans to expand into Ukraine and Uzbekistan. (Link)

  • ELIIS have launched in Poland with their partner, Europejska Akademia Dziecka. (Link)

  • Two different sides of Estonian education - tackling digital skills (Link) and inclusivity. (Link)

  • Research published on “Adopting technology in schools: modelling, measuring and supporting knowledge appropriation” featuring 100 Estonian teachers. (Link)

News from Finland

  • Claned is named as one of the partners in the Erasmus+ EdTech and AI for essential Skills of the 21st century project. (Link)

  • Code School Finland produce new teaching materials for a Government programme to develop new literacy and digital skills. (Link)

  • Interview with Olli Vallo, CEO of Education Alliance Finland, outlining their journey and highlighting the importance of evaluation. (Link)

  • Eduten sign first agreement in Bangladesh (Link) and secure 45,000 new students in Vietnam. (Link)

  • Funzi publish a new white paper on the future of work as Founder Aape Pohjavirta launches a new video series ‘Aape’s Rambles: The musings of an #Edtech Founder.’ (Link)

  • HEI Schools work with SEGi University and Colleges to take their Teacher Certificate programme to Malaysia. (Link)

  • Kide Science pen deal with international school in Mexico (Link) as CEO, Sari Hurme-Mehtälä, outlines her focus and describes her inspiration. (Link)

  • New Nordic School and Sri Aurobindo Group launch the Nordic High International School in Indore bringing Finnish education to India. (Link) Notably, Kindiedays and Kide Science are also involved providing the pedagogical management solution and STEAM lesson plans respectively.

  • Mightifier report positive impact with 4-5 year olds at the Nordic School in Peru. (Link)

News from Iceland

  • Secure Code Warrior, whose learning platform revamped security education, is now seeking to build a Nordic base and expand its Icelandic team. (Link)

News from Latvia

  • Teaching resources developed as part of the Tavaklase.lv initiative have been viewed in over 100 countries during the past 12 months. (Latvian)

  • Latvian teachers are invited to develop digital learning resources as part of Skola2030. (Lat)

  • Experts from Edurio highlight some of the hidden benefits associated with online, distance learning. (Lat)

News from Lithuania

  • Congrats to Emotika, who have been chosen as a finalist at the CEE Startup Challenge. (Link)

  • The recording from the excellent EdTech panel at the recent Startup Fair is now available here.

  • Detailed review published looking at the effectiveness of Lithuania’s online learning response to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Link)

News from Norway

  • An international study of 1,500 children by the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education showed higher learning outcomes and more positive attitudes toward learning with DragonBox. (Spanish)

  • Girl Tech Fest to go ahead in 2021 with events across Norway. (Nor)

  • The Kahoot! App is now available in Dutch, Japanese, Polish and Turkish. (Link)

  • Lær Kidsa Koding receives funding from Forskningsrådet to restart and expand the programme post-Covid. (Nor)

  • A “Digitalt universitet” team at the University of Oslo is examining what the future of hybrid learning might be. (Nor)

  • Vigilo win a silver medal at 2021 Learning Impact Awards run by the IMS Global Learning Consortium. (Link)

News from Sweden

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The NEN Interview - Jon Gunnar Thordarson, CEO Mussila

Home to musical innovators such as Björk, Sigur Rós and Oscar-winning composer, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Iceland is known globally as a creative powerhouse. So it’s perhaps no surprise that Iceland is also home to Mussila, a leading music learning EdTech.

I was delighted to talk to Jon Gunnar Thordarson, Mussila’s CEO, last week for this latest Nordic EdTech News interview. After a year in which they’ve made an acquisition, raised investment, begun to scale international sales and found time to build a Eurovision app, there was no shortage of topics for us to talk about!

As previously, the transcript of our conversation (edited to bring you all of the very best bits) follows below.

These interviews are published every fortnight with key players from across Nordic EdTech. Your feedback on these interviews or any suggestions for other content you’d like us to include would be much appreciated - simply email hello@10digits.org or comment below.

And if you enjoy this interview, please do subscribe (for free) to Nordic EdTech News. This will ensure that you get future newsletters and interviews in your inbox every Monday morning.

Many thanks, Jonathan

Jonathan Viner (JV): Hi Jon Gunnar! Many thanks for taking the time to talk to me today - can you start by telling me what Mussila is and what it does?

JGT: Mussila is an EdTech company providing children with digital solutions for learning. We already have one product on the market, which is called Mussila Music School. This teaches children (aged 6 - 10) music through game-based challenges and the children learn, play and create music all in one app. Mussila Music School is available globally through the App Store and Google Play and we also now have a classroom solution to support remote learning. Schools globally can now buy this directly through our website.

Earlier this year we also acquired a reading comprehension app called Orðagull. We’ll be translating the existing teaching materials into English and taking this into global markets later this year. We’re stepping further into EdTech as we have the technical infrastructure in place, access to families and schools and can now start developing solutions for other subjects as well.

JV: How does the app help a child to learn an instrument?

JGT: Mussila is the best place for beginners to learn before parents start to buy instruments or pay for lessons. Children learn the basics of music theory and how to play the piano via an easy step-by-step tutorial and the app’s inbuilt keyboard.

The app also has features such as tone recognition. This can be used with any instrument and the app picks up the notes that your child is playing and tells them if they are hitting the right notes or not.

JV: Where did the idea for Mussila come from?

JGT: The company was founded by Hilmar Birgisson, our COO, Margrét Júlíana Sigurðardóttir, a musician and the graphic designer, Ægir Örn Ingvason. They realised that there were not many digital resources for parents to help their children learn music. They wanted to combine music theory with the joy of playing an instrument as well as offering these game-based adventures. By pulling everything together in the app, they also gave children the motivation to learn more.

JV: You talked about expanding the range of subjects covered and your investment prospectus details plan to build an EdTech platform. What’s the future vision for the business?

JGT: It’s important to stress that we want children to learn through curiosity, through exploring and by making mistakes. We’re not focused on the testing or assessment of our users. LEGO talks about learning through play, but with Mussila, children can learn, play and create all in one app.

We’re going to use this approach to expand across different subjects by leveraging the technical infrastructure we’ve developed over the last five years. Mussila has also built up our educational expertise and now has a classroom solution for remote learning.

We can therefore create new products in the future that support children to develop literacy or logic skills. Our vision is that Mussila will become THE place for parents to come to download these apps and resources.

JV: Mussila has clearly taken time to build strong relationships with music teaching experts. How has that approach supported the product’s development?

JGT: Mussila is a company that builds successful EdTech products, but we recognise that we need to work with specialists in the field to help us. Our Musical Director, Arngerður María Árnadóttir, is in constant collaboration with experts who give us valuable feedback. Importantly, we also have lots of teachers testing the app and we constantly use their feedback to improve it. So you could say that Mussila Music School has really been made by feedback from hundreds of music teachers!

We’ve also taken this approach for our upcoming reading comprehension app, where we ‘re working with two expert speech and reading pathologists.

JV: Where is the business focused? Is it B2C or B2B? Which is the priority?

JGT: Long-term, our focus is to target both audiences equally.

At the moment, most of our users are B2C (i.e parents or families) and we certainly see that continuing. But since the pandemic, we’ve started to get lots of requests from schools and have now built an infrastructure to support remote learning through a dedicated teachers’ dashboard. Over the next two years, we’ll be really focusing on driving strong growth in B2B sales.

JV: Whilst we’re talking about B2C activity, how successful has your Daði and Gagnamagnið Eurovision app been?

JGT: It’s been amazing and the app was in the top 3 apps globally on both the App Store and Google Play, but it’s also been a really valuable experience for the whole team.

After deciding to collaborate with Daði, we developed the app in just six weeks. Our development team stopped doing what they had been doing for the previous five years and did something completely new! We’ll also be able to incorporate elements of the work in future versions of Mussila. The karaoke game and tone recognition functionality we’ve developed will help children to learn to sing through the app.

But it was also great for our company to take on something completely new. We’re a team of 10 people and we ensure that everyone is involved and that their voices are heard. So it’s great that we’re able to build this together in such a short period of time.

JV: Where are your B2B customers at the moment ?

JGT: We’re working with about 100 schools currently. They’re located in Estonia, Iceland obviously, Sweden, the UK and the US.

In Iceland, we’ve done our first municipality deal across 12 schools in Kópavogur. So we’ve proved we can do those kinds of deals and we’re now looking to scale that model up.

Music is a universal language so we can see the whole world as our stage. Our community of schools is really powerful - they talk so positively about Mussila that the word just spreads!

JV: If music is such a universal language, why is it relatively underserved by EdTech companies?

JGT: I think that comes down to parents’ spending priorities as they’re the key decision-makers in B2C markets. They start with supporting their child’s literacy, then maths, then coding, then art and then music learning.

Music learning is therefore seen as quite niche and that deters competitors.

JV: Given that you’ve recently closed a funding round, you’ve obviously been able to demonstrate that there’s a significant market to target! Can you tell me a little bit more about the whole process as you took quite an unusual approach to raising?

JGT: Our target was to raise a seed round of €600,000 and we actually ended up raising €675,000 from 250 investors through an Estonian platform called Funderbeam. It’s amazing that so many people believe in what we’re doing and where we’re going.

The investment will really help us to build and to achieve our dreams. We’ll speed up the technical development and scale up our team as we handle the huge number of enquiries we’re now getting from schools via organic traffic. There’s a huge opportunity for us and we’re working with SuperCharger Ventures to do a Series A round next year!

JV: How realistic is that given that your investment prospectus states 2020 revenues at just over €75,000?

JGT: Our solution has received lots of awards and lots of public recognition, so people obviously like what we’re doing. During the last year, we’ve also seen revenues increase 7x as parents and schools looked for quality digital education solutions during the pandemic.

To take advantage of this opportunity, we need to keep telling the world about Mussila and we need investment funds to do that.

JV: Do you ever get pushback from parents who don’t want their child to learn a musical instrument through an app?

JGT: I understand that perspective and agree that children do spend way too much time on iPads and other smart devices. But Mussila does help children to learn something useful and helps build their skills for the future.

Also our tone recognition feature means that children can place the device on their instrument and see if they’re playing the right notes. We’re providing tools and resources so that children can play in the physical world, not just on the device. So Mussila can really support them in their music learning.

JV: Can you describe the EdTech ecosystem in Iceland? Where do you look for advice and inspiration?

JGT: I think that we have learned most from conversations with people from the Icelandic gaming industry. Companies like CCP, the developers of Eve Online,  Klang Games, Myrkur Games and Solid Clouds, who have all built and scaled global businesses from Iceland.

The Icelandic startup community is quite close and people are keen to help and mentor each other. Our company also has a strong board of directors and advisors with broad experience in investment, gaming and international sales.

JV: OK, so finally what led you from the world of drama and theatre into the world of EdTech? How did that come about?

JGT: Well there’s lots of similarities - certainly throughout my career I’ve been asking people for money to do my projects!

The reason I went into the theatre was because I wanted to change the world. But ultimately, when you direct a play, it carries a certain message and usually the people who come and see it believe that message too.

EdTech is also about changing the world, but through empowering children. We don’t know what the future holds over the next 15 to 20 years, but we do know that children need to have the ability to create and innovate in order to answer the big questions that are ahead of us. I hope that our work in EdTech is about building something that helps young people develop the critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration skills to really help the world in the future.

JV: Thanks very much for your time Jon Gunnar. Once again, that’s a really inspiring message for us to finish on!

Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed this interview, please subscribe to Nordic EdTech News. You’ll get all future newsletters and interviews in your inbox every Monday morning.

Nordic EdTech News #44 : 2021-06-07

Your Week 21 and 22 update from the Nordic & Baltic EdTech ecosystem

Good morning! Welcome to Nordic EdTech News and hope that you have a great week!

With all of the amazing pedagogical and technological innovation this newsletter reports on every week, it’s essential that we check-in on the actual use of such materials in classrooms to transform teaching. Since 2016, Clio has produced an invaluable market survey on the use of digital teaching aids / technology and published their 2021 report at the end of May. The report combines insight from both Denmark and Sweden and evidences a strong move towards digital teaching tools - nearly 40% of Danish teachers, for example, answered that they used digital materials exclusively or predominantly in teaching. As well as providing an insight into how schools responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, the report also outlines some of the challenges schools still face in their digitisation journey - unstable internet and inadequate equipment are, for over 40% of teachers, still major stumbling blocks.

One concern not referenced in the report is student data privacy. In my last newsletter, I linked to a Norwegian report which raised concerns that popular EdTech resources were not implementing appropriate safeguards. Since then, IKT-Norge have issued a robust rebuttal on behalf of their members, calling the report “junk” (Link in Norwegian). But the issue is still live and I’m sure that we’ll be hearing much more on this topic from Norway and elsewhere over time. This recent article on Google’s plans in the space is well worth reading in this context.

Tomorrow (8th June 2021) sees the official launch of the European Edtech Alliance. Full details of the event here and there’s a great speaker line-up including Sweden’s Lexplore. Again, please do attend and show your support!

Next Monday’s Nordic EdTech News Interview will be with Jon Gunnar Thordarson, CEO at Icelandic EdTech, Mussila. And if you missed last week’s interview with Annely Tank, CEO of EdTech Estonia, you can read it in full here.

I’m always happy to recommend other high-quality EdTech content, so please do check out the blogs (English and Swedish) and newsletter produced by Alastair Creelman. He’s an e-learning specialist working at Linnaeus University in Kalmar, south-east Sweden, with a particular interest in the use of digital tools in higher education.

If you read this newsletter for Nordic EdTech analysis and insight, you may be interested to know that I do also sell my services. Want to find out more about my advisory work helping to build great EdTech businesses and organisations? Let’s talk.

As always, do let me know if you’ve got any feedback or a story to include in a future issue of this newsletter by emailing hello@10digits.org. Sharing this email with your network is also much appreciated!

Best regards, Jonathan

News from Denmark

News from Estonia

  • Detailed explanation of how Estonia provides consistent, fast internet access for students and teachers. (Link)

  • New resources from Clanbeat to help students tackle anxiety and worry. (Link)

  • Excellent profile of Futuclass in XR Nation. (Link)

  • Mentornaut receives €100,000 investment from angel investors for online tutor platform. (Link)

News from Finland

  • Don’t miss the Finnish Early Childhood and Education International Innovation Forum - Tuesday 8th June. Great speakers and full details here.

  • The Finnish government allocate €111 million to “to alleviate the adverse impacts of the pandemic on children and young adults” including €65 million to bridge the learning gap. (Link)

  • How Claned help Rosaldo to improve online training for healthcare workers. (Link)

  • Detailed background on HEI Schools and their continued international growth. (Link)

  • Kide Science start working with kindergartens in Jyväskylä. (Finnish)

  • Great to hear Ellimaija Ahonen, CEO of LessonApp, on this podcast talking about Finnish education and EdTech. (Link)

  • Tuudo hit 100,000 active monthly users in 26 Finnish universities and launch new partnerships with Bitwards. (Link)

  • Verdane invests in Eduhouse and Wistec to support their growth as B2B e-learning content businesses. (Link)

News from Iceland

  • Time for my periodic mention of #menntaspjall to get the latest picture of how teachers in Iceland use EdTech in their classrooms.

News from Latvia

  • A pilot project for EMU: Skola, a wellbeing solution for students, gets great feedback from teachers. (Lat)

  • Useful insight from Lielvārdes on hybrid learning in Latvia. (Lat)

  • Great summary of usage over the past school year from Uzdevumi. (Lat)

News from Lithuania

  • Strong EdTech panel at last week’s Startup Fair (Link) but unfortunately no recording at the time of writing. Will post when available.

  • Lukas Kaminskis, Co-founder & CEO at Turing College, on “Creating XXI century education: job market expectations.” (Link)

  • The National Agency for Education continues to extend their list of recommended digital teaching resources in April / May. (Lith)

News from Norway

  • The German state of Schleswig-Holstein has decided to adopt itslearning as its statewide LMS for the next 3 years, following a trial one-year contract. The system will now support 400,000 users across the state. (Link)

  • Kahoot! announce that their app is now available on the Amazon Appstore (Link) and confirms that the Kahoot! EDU Summit will take place on 16 / 17 June. (Link)

  • Ludenso launch a new Ocean Challenge to encourage “ocean preservation, entrepreneurship and creativity.” (Link)

  • Sarah Bertram Smith from Brighteye Ventures on investing in EdTech at the Creative Startups Roundtable organised by Startup Norway. (Link)

  • For some educators in Higher Education, the pandemic digital teaching experience was “so positive.” (Nor)

News from Sweden

  • As a Jämtland resident, it’s encouraging to see how Elevhälsa Online is strengthening local students’ mental wellbeing. (Swe)

  • How the Apple Entrepreneur Camp supported imagiLabs on their journey. (Link)

  • Skolon and ILT Inläsningstjänst announce new integration. (Swe)

  • Skolverket report shows that online / distance learning needs trust and structure to be a success. (Swe)

  • The Swedish Edtech Industry announces new Board members (Link) as it expands focus to include B2C and corporate learning EdTech businesses. (Link)

  • Fascinating to see how Helsingborg municipality empowers children through the use of virtual assistants (via TietoEVRY). (Link)

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with a friend or five! Please send them here to sign up - https://nordicedtech.substack.com

The NEN Interview - Annely Tank, CEO EdTech Estonia

In recent years Estonia has established itself as a powerful national force in education, outperforming the rest of Europe in the 2018 international PISA tests. As part of an advanced, online-first society, Estonian education has prioritised the efficient and effective use of digital tools to transform learning and has focused on improving the digital skills of the entire nation.

It was great for me to have the opportunity to talk to Annely Tank, CEO of EdTech Estonia for this latest Nordic EdTech News interview. In addition to discussing those PISA results, our conversation also focused on the role of user testing, learning lessons from unicorns as well as the importance of trusting teachers and prioritising wellbeing.

As previously, the transcript of our conversation (edited to bring you all of the very best bits) follows below.

These interviews are published every fortnight with key players from across Nordic EdTech. Your feedback on these interviews or any suggestions for other content you’d like us to include would be much appreciated - simply email hello@10digits.org or comment below.

And if you enjoy this interview, please do subscribe (for free) to Nordic EdTech News. This will ensure that you get future newsletters and interviews in your inbox every Monday morning.

Many thanks, Jonathan

Jonathan Viner (JV): Hi Annely! Many thanks for agreeing to talk to me today. Let’s start with the basics - could you please explain what EdTech Estonia does?

Annely Tank (AT): EdTech Estonia was founded in December 2020 and is an NGO focused on bringing together and supporting Estonian EdTech companies. We currently have 30 members from across the country and across the EdTech spectrum.

Estonia has obviously been looking at EdTech topics for much longer than that, but previously it was covered by a specialist branch of Startup Estonia. However, at the end of last year, the Estonian EdTech companies wanted to have a separate organisation, although we still have great collaboration with Startup Estonia.

All of our members are motivated by the same ambition - to give every learner access to the very best possible education, regardless of their age, location, technical skills or language. I truly believe that education is the best investment any government can make in its people, enabling anybody to make a difference in the world.

JV: What’s the total number of EdTech companies in Estonia and how is EdTech Estonia funded?

AT: Last year when Startup Estonia published their annual EdTech Review, there were 43 companies who described themselves as focusing on EdTech. We’re obviously talking to all of these companies to get them to join EdTech Estonia!

All of our members currently pay an annual membership fee of €150 and we also receive financial support from the Ministry of Education and Research as well as the Ministry of Economics and International Trade. Their support is hugely valuable and we have a really close partnership with both ministers, which is great.

JV: Does that make it difficult for the organisation if you ever disagree with government policy?

AT: That’s one of the things I love about working with the Estonian government. Even though we are funded by them, we can certainly disagree with them - it's totally fine!

On most occasions, we do share the same views. Of course, we all agree that learners, students and society need access to the best possible education. But we do sometimes see things differently - particularly around the work that the government should do and what the private sector should do. But I think that’s an ongoing challenge in democratic countries across the world.

JV: And what are the key strategic goals that EdTech Estonia is currently working towards? How will you know if your work has been a success?

AT: We share the same ultimate goal of creating the very best possible learning solutions for students and which also help and support teachers. We both also want to see clear routes for our members to easily export their products globally as Estonia is not a big enough market to really sustain most educational technologies.

We’re also focused on empowering innovation in Estonian schools. As an innovation-driven nation with autonomous schools and teachers, this is a really important area for us. We want Estonia to be a leading country for EdTech and to be seen as a role model for collaboration with researchers and scientists. We’re going to be developing collaboration programmes with universities and researchers in Estonia, but also in the Nordics and hopefully, eventually, globally.

The very best EdTech solutions, I believe, come out of research and user testing. So every time we welcome a new member company, I ask them three questions: Who are you building this for? How are you going to test it and why are you building it? If they know the answers to those three questions, then that’s a good base to start from.

JV: What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had on your members and on Estonian education more broadly?

AT: I think that the most important thing that we’ve learnt is that we really need to focus much more on the mental health and wellbeing of everyone in education. That includes students, parents, teachers and all administration and support staff.

It’s been a really tough time for everyone and I’m really happy that the Minister for Education has launched a hotline for teachers to call and talk with a mental health expert. We’ve also created solutions with some of our members to support all school staff.

JV: Obviously the 2018 PISA results really brought Estonian education to international attention. But you don’t get the best results in Europe without some serious planning. What were the steps that Estonia took to get to the top?

AT: I think that there are really two core things to focus on.

Firstly, Estonians have always loved learning. Educating ourselves and prioritising education has always been a very big part of our culture. Education is almost always the number one topic in every election - it’s really important for people in Estonia.

The second element, of course, is that we have really, really good teachers. And as a country, we have to applaud them for the results they have delivered. Our teachers are passionate about their job and inspire their students with their love of every subject. The government also trusts the teachers to do the right things for / with their students and they’re supported by a very well organised school system.

JV: Of course, the next challenge will be staying at the top! How sustainable is that position and how will Estonia ensure that it remains number 1?!

AT: I don't want to sound arrogant but I think that it’s definitely possible for us to stay on top! We just need to continue to help and support our teachers and to keep developing our ecosystem. Teachers are trying to make every single lesson count for their children and that’s absolutely the right approach.

But I would also like to see PISA change its focus to better reflect student happiness and wellbeing. It’s much more important for me that our students are mentally well than getting straight As or top grades.

JV: What is it about your members that makes Estonian EdTech so unique?

AT: I think that all startup founders have a spark in their eyes. But EdTech founders are even more special - the sensation is a bit like being with a child in a sweet shop. There’s just a special kind of vibration that runs through these people, particularly in Estonia.

Our members are also incredibly hard-working and proactive. I think that they are focused on getting things done - there’s no obstacle that cannot be overcome. They’re also really socially active - they responded during Covid to provide their resources free to schools and ran an award-winning ‘Computer For Every School Child’ campaign to make sure all students had a computer to work on at home.

JV: You talked about the high quality of Estonian teachers earlier. But what’s their perspective on using EdTech in the classroom?

AT: EdTech is widely used by Estonian teachers and that was certainly also the case even before the pandemic. Most teachers are using some kind of EdTech solution on a daily basis. For example, Opiq is used by about 80% of all teachers in Estonia every day. Overall, feedback from teachers is really positive, but there are some things for us to work on together.

Firstly, some teachers do see startups as a risk. They don’t want to start using something and put all of their learning materials onto it, only for the company to then close after 1 or 2 years. So we need to work with schools and teachers to make sure that new solutions are evidence-based and as bullet-proof as possible.

It’s also clear that teachers have grown tired of doing everything online. After nearly 500 days, they’re tired of being in front of a computer screen and not seeing their students face to face. It’s great that technology ensured that teachers and students weren't left behind during the pandemic, but teachers are looking forward to returning to hybrid ways of working. That combination of digital and face-to-face teaching worked well in Estonia before Covid struck.

JV: You’ve already highlighted some of them, but are there other big challenges that your members are currently facing?

AT: That depends on whether you’re an established business or a startup, but there are certainly some common problems that we’re working with members to address.

I’ve already mentioned the slightly blurred lines between what is seen as the government’s responsibility and what is seen as the private sector’s job to do. Members are also working hard to address and understand all of the implications of the GDPR regulations.

But the other big topic is around awareness and visibility. Members want to know how they can let people know what they are doing even if they are small or operating in local markets. It’s also even harder for startups where the CEO is also often playing the role of the CFO and the communications manager.

JV: Estonia is home to some super successful technology businesses like Bolt, Skype and Wise. What lessons can Estonian EdTech businesses learn from these unicorns?

AT: We were actually just discussing this topic yesterday!

I think that the answer is to dream big! We’re able to benefit from the same conditions that they do and all Estonian founders are proactive, hard-working and focused on delivery. It’s all about the mindset - businesses don't have to stick to their local or neighbouring markets. Our unicorns have gone global from the start - they just dream bigger! And that’s the big lesson for us to take forward, I think.

I believe in dreaming big, as you have understood (laughs). I have a dream that in the future, we’ll see new game-changing business rising from small Estonian towns. New EdTechs founded by Kalle, a grandfather who has been a teacher over 40 years, and his granddaughter Maria, who is an IT specialist. Startups like this can be great regional development accelerators - we just haven’t fully discovered their full potential yet.

JV: I’m fascinated by the new Jõhvi Coding School that’s opening in 2023. As you know, it’s a coding school that’s being created for adults looking for self-development or retraining opportunities. To what extent do you think that this represents a new model for teaching tech skills?

AT: Like you, I cannot wait for the school to open. I think that there are three things that I love about the school which demonstrate it’s new approach.

The first is that the initiative came from the private sector. I know from previous jobs the pain that they feel, trying to find the people and the skills that they need. The school will graduate 200 new IT specialists every year, helping to reduce the lack of software engineers in Estonia. This is a real problem for Estonia’s position as a startup hub.

Secondly, the choice of location is very deliberate and fits with the Estonian regional development plan. The school will be based in Jõhvi in Ida-Virumaa - that’s where my parents and roots are, so it’s special for me. But the school will make a big contribution to the whole region by boosting skills and creating new opportunities for local people.

Finally, the school is responding to new ways of learning and is shaking up the status quo. It will be residential with students living on site and working at their own pace from a cloud-based learning platform. There’s no teachers at Jõhvi school, so students work through projects and tasks set by the system. And importantly those tasks are all linked to real-world challenges. Of course, the university model will continue, but it’s also right that we offer learners a variety of routes to gain the skills that they want and need.

JV: One final question, how can we dream bigger and develop an even stronger regional EdTech ecosystem across the Nordic and Baltic states? What needs to happen to move that forward?

AT: I think, again, that collaboration on levels is absolutely key. It’s great that I and the other national association CEOs across N8 are now meeting regularly. But I also want to see policy makers and Ministers working more closely together. That’s all possible but we also need to see better and more frequent communication between all stakeholders.

I’d love to see companies, schools, teachers and students from across all 8 countries working together. There’s so much that we could learn from each other by doing that. We don’t need to wait for Ministers to lead the way. We all have two hands and a brain - let’s all use them and start to get things moving!

JV: Thanks very much for your time Annely. That’s a really inspiring message for us to finish on!

Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed this interview, please subscribe to Nordic EdTech News. You’ll get all future newsletters and interviews in your inbox every Monday morning.

Nordic EdTech News #43 : 2021-05-24

Your Week 19 and 20 update from the Nordic & Baltic EdTech ecosystem

Hello and welcome to this latest issue of Nordic EdTech News! Firstly, a big thank you to all the new subscribers who have signed up in the last few weeks. It’s great to have you on board and it’s really encouraging to see how much global interest there is in all things Nordic EdTech!

On that subject, congratulations to Labster and Yousician for their inclusion in the GSV Edtech 150 (Link). This global list highlights the “most transformational growth companies in digital learning”, so it’s good to see two of our leading companies recognised for their achievements over the last 12 months. Congratulations also to imagiLabs and School Day who are included in this year's Elite 200, a list of semifinalists in the GSV Cup. These 200 businesses are identified as the leading global “pre-seed and seed startups” in EdTech (Link).

It is, however, evident from both of the above lists that there’s some way to go before the Nordic and the wider European EdTech ecosystems can really challenge the global dominance of China, India and the US. One encouraging step forward in this mission is the formal launch of the European Edtech Alliance on 8th June 2021. Full details of the event and the great speaker line-up here. Nordic national EdTech associations and clusters are playing a key role in this really important initiative, so please do attend and show your support!

The biggest funding news from the last two weeks saw Finland’s Howspace close a €12M Series A funding round led by Forestay Capital and Inventure (Link). The investment will fuel the international expansion of this social learning platform in North America and Central Europe.

Next Monday’s Nordic EdTech News Interview will be with Annely Tank, CEO of EdTech Estonia, and I’m really looking forward to talking with her about Estonia’s digital innovation and transformation. To whet your appetite, this recording of a recent webinar from the Jõhvi Coding School is well worth a watch. It features the Estonian President, Kersti Kaljulaid, and Co-founder of Wise, Taavet Hinrikus.

If you missed last week’s interview with Jamie Poolton of Showbie, you can read it in full here. The Nordic educator films from Showbie’s Learning RedefinED virtual event last week are also available here.

Understanding the educator’s perspective is, of course, essential for many EdTechs, so this new report from Denmark’s Agency for IT and Learning makes particularly interesting reading. It reviews the “digital life” of Danish school teachers and highlights significant differences in how much teachers use and value digital tools. Although nearly 70% of teachers surveyed agreed that digital resources did support their work, 40% felt that the selection of digital teaching tools was too small. A similar percentage felt that they derived little value from their learning platforms.

As always, do let me know if you’ve got any feedback or a story to include in a future issue of this newsletter by emailing hello@10digits.org. Sharing this email with your network is also much appreciated!

Best regards, Jonathan

News from Denmark

  • Students at Aarhus University find serious vulnerabilities in nine widely used apps. (Danish)

  • Labster publish a detailed case study showing the impact of their solution on students at San José State University (Link) and launch resources in Italian. (Link)

  • Shape Robotics sign agreement with Lekolar to sell their Fable robot system to educational institutions across the Nordics. (Dan)

News from Estonia

  • Drops launch a new series on their YouTube channel called Bite Sized Learning. (Link)

  • Take a virtual tour of three amazing Estonian schools! (Link)

  • Useful summary of the EdTech companies underpinning Estonian education. (Link)

  • Interesting research from Tallinn University on how to sustain EdTech-led innovation in the classroom. (Link)

  • Register now for EdTest Estonia 2021. Further details here.

News from Finland

  • Great piece in EdTechX360 on “Finland’s Education System and their Unique Approach to EdTech Product Development”. (Link)

  • Carrot Kitchen close €500k pre-seed round to fund UK expansion. (Link)

  • Good to see Eduten’s growth continuing to accelerate - they’ll soon pass 150 million answers on the platform. (Link)

  • Elias Robot named ‘Best In Class’ at IMPACT EdTech’s ‘Remote Schooling’ accelerator. Great news! (Link)

  • Funzi support their move into D2C space with new content featuring top tips and career / life advice. (Link)

  • Nolwenture have launched OppiPlay Primary, a free web application for teachers and parents to easily create / share lessons and follow pupils' progress. (Link)

  • Kide Science founder, Sari Hurme-Mehtälä, outlines how they help “make science accessible to everyone.” (Link)

  • Reactored announce collaboration with Arffman to provide Finnish language learning services. (Finnish)

News from Iceland

  • Fascinating virtual conference on Reykjavík's approach to innovation in education and teaching. (Icelandic)

News from Latvia

  • Latvian teachers develop their computer programming skills (Link) as the Computer for Every Child initiative finally gets going. (Lat)

  • Edurio launch a Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Summit for schools - scheduled for 21 June 2021. (Link)

  • The Raccoons launch a new video series introducing STEM and digital careers. (Lat)

News from Lithuania

  • New EdTech resource platform and national Competence Centre is now under discussion as Government plans pandemic response. (Lith)

  • The National Agency for Education extends their list of recommended digital teaching resources. (Lith)

  • Code Academy Kids and Edukraftas partner up to develop new Minecraft Mars Mission resources for students. (Link)

  • TAMO Group make app available for free until the end of June. 10,000 users sign up on the first day. (Lith)

News from Norway

  • Industry bodies express disappointment that there’s no new money for school books or teaching resources in the national budget. (Link)

  • New review raises concerns about student privacy when using leading Norwegian EdTech resources. (Link)

  • The Kahoot! mobile app won a 2021 Webby People’s Voice Award (Link) as it’s revealed the business raised $206 million to fund the recent acquisition of US EdTech, Clever. (Link)

  • Ludenso leads the way with investors at recent Startup Norway ‘Creative Startups Roundtable’ event. (Link)

  • Revenues more than double at No Isolation - up to NOK 56.6M in 2020. (Link)

  • Scrimba hits 500,00 users. (Link)

  • Showbie announce new additions to their Norway-based Nordic team. (Link)

News from Sweden

  • Akribian launch their research-based maths game, Count on me!, on the AppStore in both Sweden and the UK. (Swe)

  • Astrid Education signs new content deal with video on demand platform, WaterBear Network. (Link)

  • Humly continues to expand with acquisition of UK-based teaching agency, Supply Teaching Ltd. (Link)

  • Katarina Blomqvist has been appointed publishing director at Natur & Kultur with responsibility for teaching resources. (Swe)

  • Meitner raises a further SEK 5.8M from a group of angel investors. (Swe)

  • Great speakers at Sana Labs’ forthcoming ‘Frontiers of Learning’ event on 9th June. Full details here.

  • Studi rebrands - will now be known as Binogi. (Link)

  • Swedish Edtest and the Swedish Edtech Industry form Sweden's first research accelerator for EdTech, working with UK-based Educate. (Swe)

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with a friend or five! Please send them here to sign up - https://nordicedtech.substack.com

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