Education has long been proclaimed a fertile sector for technological innovation. It certainly is an area where the power of software is drastically underexploited. While there are some exceptions – for example, Blackboard has grown into a billion dollar business by providing enterprise software applications to the education sector – it is not hard to understand why it is an area where entrepreneurs have by-and-large failed to produce world-beating companies. Big as the opportunity may ultimately be, the education value chain in near impenetrable for small companies, particularly given the government bureaucracy inherently attached to most education systems in the developed world.
It is encouraging to learn that a Tel Aviv-based startup is addressing the challenge head on. Time To Know has developed a “teaching platform” which is designed to be the primary instructional platform in the modern classroom. It combines a core curriculum – currently limited to math, English, Hebrew and science for grades 4 through 6, and Hebrew, English and Arabic for grades 1 through 12 – with various tools for lesson planning, assessment and reporting.
The solution is being piloted at two schools in Israel, as well as two in the United States, and it is expected to be implemented in other schools during this school year. Time To Know is making the core platform available to schools in Israel for free, but the schools are must first purchase (or obtain donations) for the computers and wireless networks required to run the software.
The teaching platform offers a full multimedia experience. But the most interesting aspect of the software is its functionality which enables students to progress through exercises at their own pace, while being monitored in real-time by the teacher. The difficulty of exercises adapts according to the ability of the student users, making for a personalized learning experience.
In an interview with Haaretz, the company’s CEO, Yossi Ben-Dov, revealed that the solution, inclusive of hardware, networking, training, and the software itself could be made available for $600 per student per year. The company must sell licenses for 500,000 students (1% of the total students in US schools) in order to break even.
Time To Know plans to focus on offering the solution in English-speaking markets (in addition to Israel) before expanding into other markets. A challenge will be to ensure, even within English-speaking markets, that the curriculum is sufficiently localized. For example, even at the primary school level there are significant differences between the UK, UK and Australian education systems.
Self-directed learning is clearly the way forward and the limited time resources available to teachers are better managed through software than through intuition. While the challenge associated with penetrating the education systems of even the most developed countries is not to be ignored, Time To Know should be commended for acting boldly with the prospect of bringing improved learning experiences to millions of children around the world. Software has fundamentally change the way we, as knowledge workers, get things done. There is no reason why a similar feat cannot be achieved in the classroom setting.