Our education system needs to smarten up with big data, more mobile phones & games

By Kitty Knowles 21 January 2016

We asked budding entrepreneur George Burgess why we should be excited about the schools of the future.

George Burgess is the founder of Gojimo, an free exam preparation app focused on GCSE and A-Level content.

But Gojimo is a revision tool with a difference: Where previously students had to look in many different places for curriculum content, they can now find almost everything in one simple app.

There’s a long tail of about 1,000 GCSE apps,” explains Burgess, whose company previously built platforms for everyone from BBC Bitesize to the Oxford University Press.

“A lot of them cover maths, a lot of them cover science, a lot of them teach geography, but they’re all independent normally for a single subject.”

“Others are low-quality products that individual teachers have built and coded themselves,” he adds.

“What we’re doing with Gojimo is to aggregate all that content into a single ecosystem.”

Education technology is heating up

Gojimo, which currently includes revision tools for the 18 most popular GCSE subjects and the 12 most popular A-Level subjects, was used by over 300,000 UK students in the May exam season of 2015.

“The reason we’ve been able to reach so many students is because there’s this desire from young people to find more interactive and engaging means to study,” says Burgess, who dropped out of Stanford to launch his app.

“When you think about all the technology that we have in our day-to-day life, the fact that kids still study using large physical books and physical practice spaces makes absolutely no sense.”

“Education technology is obviously a very, very broad and growing sector, and particularly in the UK there’s a lot of startups trying to tackle different elements of education,” says Burgess. “We’re focusing on the supplementary learning space – revision, tutoring, homework help – but there are lots of other pain points to be solved.”

Gojimo app. Pic: Gojimo.
Gojimo app. Pic: Gojimo.

So who else is leading the way?

“One British company I really like is RefME,” says Burgess.

“Everyone hates having to cite sources, but they make it super easy to automatically generate your bibliography or citations at the end of an essay with your phone.”

Another is slightly more school related, Show My Homework. They’ve taken that headache of assigning, managing, submitting, marking, and giving feedback on homework, and have made it super simple with a nice web platform that intertwines the relationship between students, parents, and teachers.

“Education is ripe for disruption,” he adds.

A more mobile future

As we look ahead, mobile will increasingly play more of a role in classrooms, Burgess says. (At present around 90% exam students have their own smartphone).

“We do still have schools where smartphones are banned, but I think it’s empowering for a student to have their smartphone in a classroom.

“Discussions in history can be so much more informative if kids can look up and contribute facts that they find and research themselves there in the classroom setting.”

Show My Homework.

Gamifying education

Experts have also suggested that the UK gamify A-levels to make them more engaging and take pressure of teachers. It’s a notion Burgess supports.

“We’re actually looking at potentially doing more kind of competitive type features for that app,” he explains.

“We’re now looking at ways to better introduce social and competitive features to enforce that gamification element.”

Big data for better learning

“In the future almost every element of education will be driven by data,” says Burgess. “There’s so many quick wins to be had.”

“For instance, we collect performance data around you how students are doing on Gojimo. But if you aggregate that, we can actually assess how the entire United Kingdom performs in different topics.”

“If teachers knew which topics maths students struggled with the most, they could improve teacher training around those topics.”

“There’s a lot of decisions that are made day-to-day in terms of work that is set, where in the curriculum a teacher begins, and how they weave their way forward, that will actually be led by technology.”

The future for Gojimo?

“Our focus this year for Gojimo as a company is really to figure out how to monetise,” says Burgess. “We already monetise a little bit with some premium content, but we’ll be taking that to the next stage in looking at what other features and services we might be able to build.”

Definitely one to watch.