Scaling up education innovation

According to Lasse Leponiemi, executive director and co-founder of HundrED, scaling up education innovations is slow and laborious – but it’s rewarding in terms of improved learning outcomes

There is over a decade’s worth of literature and evidence on how and why innovations scale. Our understanding of the mechanisms and tools to support the spread of innovation are more effective through online environments than ever before but, still, education innovations struggle to scale up and practices do not travel between classrooms very easily.

Often the process of scaling innovations can be regarded as slow and laborious, causing frustration and disappointment. There is also a significant amount of resistance; for example, parents might want to stick with existing or more traditional approaches to education, or teachers’ attitudes towards teaching new skills, like coding, can be negative and they can be reluctant to learn new skills by themselves – perhaps due to a lack of confidence or increasing workloads.

In a survey carried out exclusively among the HundrED Global Collection innovators, one of the pressure points identified was their ability to facilitate growth. HundrED.org is a Finnish, not-for-profit organisation which selects 100 education innovations to be highlighted every year; the innovations selected go through a thorough research process. In 2019 over 2,000 reviews were made by education experts, principals, teachers and students to compile the list.

The major need for these impactful and scalable innovations is to find ways to resource their growth. In the survey 98% of respondents mentioned that they are looking for external funding to boost their growth. What makes the education innovation sector different from other markets is the unique nature of its funding structure; while impactful and scalable business ideas often find it relatively easy to finance their operations through capital investments, only seven per cent of education innovations have raised these investments. Based on HundrED’s Education Innovators Funding Needs Report (2019) the majority (51%) of education innovations are funded by donations and grants.

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The challenge is two-sided. Firstly, the implementation process in the education sector is slower than in many other markets. Purchase processes in education divisions and schools usually contain multiple layers, and teachers might have very little say as to which resources they are able to use in their classrooms. Secondly, many education innovations are aimed at low-resourced areas; in such areas the main aim is to provide high quality educational opportunities to children without financial gains for the service or solution provided.

For example, when describing their funding situation in the report (2019), one of the innovators stated, “We are looking for any kind of funding that can help us to expand the outreach of the programme and expand access of quality education for deprived children from marginalised communities (especially girls), so that they can also get equal opportunities for quality education.”

The only way forward for education innovators is to find ways to provide, not only pedagogically outstanding models, but to also include ways to overcome the financial barriers. Often innovators need to be patient, resilient and persistent to get their solutions and practices implemented. To be able to do this, many innovators might need to look for grants and donations and wait for the more lucrative possibilities to arrive later.

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