Bett 2024 was a landmark education conference that brought together educators and policymakers from across the globe, to share insights into integrating educational technology (EdTech) in diverse landscapes. Juliana Escobar Díaz (LBS MBA2025, and Wheeler Institute intern) reports.
Bett’s Global Future series featured a range of speakers from the United Kingdom, United States, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, who delved into the possibilities of EdTech. The discussion that centred on Latin America and Southeast Asia caught my attention because of the similarities and differences in their education systems. Both regions cater to vast student populations. Yet they also score poorly on a range of primary education performance indicators, such as enrolment and completion rate, signalling a profound opportunity for systemic enhancement.
Despite the cultural, political and geographical diversity of these regions, EdTech presents itself as an opportunity to bridge inequalities in education. The complexity of digital education adaptation, however, remains a challenge in addressing longstanding socioeconomic and educational gaps in the regions.
Background: Covid 19 and the digital impulse
The COVID-19 pandemic deeply affected both regions, significantly disrupting traditional education systems. On average, students in Latin America missed out on two-thirds of their in-person schooling, either fully or partially, over a two-year period. This led to an alarming increase in learning poverty, jumping from 53% pre-pandemic to an estimated 79%.1 The scenario was similar in Southeast Asia, where schools were shut for 83% of the period between April 2020 and March 2022. This compounded learning poverty rates and resulted in an 18% increase from 60% to 78%.2
But there is a silver lining to this crisis. The urgent need for educational continuity catalysed the adoption of digital technologies, encouraging teachers and schools to adapt to a new reality. This shift opened the door for the rise of EdTech.
EdTech: new challenges in the search for educational equality
While there is widespread agreement that EdTech has the potential to enhance learning and make education more accessible, there is also a risk that it could deepen existing inequalities, especially for students from more disadvantaged backgrounds in the regions. The risks arise from three key challenges: unequal access to connectivity; the necessity for thorough teacher training; and budget constraints.
Challenge One: Unequal access to connectivity
Technology increases access to content, but primarily to those who already have it. In Latin America and Southeast Asia, online platforms introduced for distance learning have not adequately served children in rural and remote locations or those with disabilities. For example, in Cambodia, while 70% of students took part in distance learning, it’s estimated that only 35% could access the online materials needed for their education (UNESCO, 2023)6. Similarly, in Latin America, internet access remains an obstacle for economically disadvantaged groups. In countries such as Peru, Mexico, Panama, and Colombia, just 14%, 19%, 24%, and 25% of students from the lowest income quintile respectively can access the internet at home (World Bank, 2021).7
Challenge Two: Need for comprehensive teacher training
Offering digital skills training and appropriate incentives for educators is crucial for successfully integrating EdTech. Such activity should extend beyond just the operation of devices and software to include a rich understanding of how these technologies can enhance education and pedagogy. There is still a long way to go. In most countries in Southeast Asia, only half of the school principals believe that teachers are incentivised to use digital tools. Similarly, research in Colombia indicates that despite the availability of varied technological instruments in public schools, there is no clear correlation with educational success. This suggests that the current approach to digital literacy—focusing on primary usage rather than exploiting its potential to foster critical thinking—falls short8.
Challenge Three: Budget constraints
Governments in low- and middle-income countries in the regions often struggle to allocate the resources required to provide the necessary infrastructure and policies for the adaption of EdTech at scale. For example, regional studies in Southeast Asia describe operational challenges faced by ministries of education, including the lack of employee capacity, the lack of ICT infrastructure, and inadequate or fragmented policies on digital content (UNESCO, 2023).9
In conclusion: what does the path ahead look like?
The rise of EdTech holds great promise for improving educational outcomes. However, disparities in access to these technologies, rooted in infrastructural and economic inequalities, have posed significant challenges for countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia. These challenges often prevent the potential of EdTech from being fully realised in terms of improved enrolment, test scores, and graduation rates. To truly harness the power of EdTech, effective public policies must tackle these inequalities head-on, ensuring equitable access to internet connectivity, digital devices, and comprehensive digital literacy training. Crucially, as private sector EdTech companies venture into these regions, they must remain acutely aware of these disparities and strive to make a meaningful difference.
About the author
Juliana Escobar Díaz (LBS MBA 2025) is an Outreach and Communications Intern at the Wheeler Institute for Business and Development. Prior to joining London Business School, Juliana spent four years at McKinsey & Company as a Location and Business Analyst, based in Bogotá. She has a keen interest in business for impact and business as a force for good.