EdTech in Latin America and the Caribbean: overview and needs in vulnerable environments

We took a snapshot of the current state of EdTechs in the region and asked ourselves whether their configuration is adapted to the context and needs of vulnerable environments.

EdTech in Latin America and the Caribbean: overview and needs in vulnerable environments

In the ProFuturo Observatory we have already discussed in a few articles how to use technology in vulnerable environments to solve challenges related to access, quality and equity gaps in education. We also discussed the challenges and challenges and opportunities of the EdTech sector in Latin America and the Caribbean. In this article, we will take a look at the different EdTech ecosystems in the region to analyse whether they are truly adapted to the real needs of their education systems.

The EdTech ecosystem in Latin America and the Caribbean is experiencing strong growth in response to demand from students, schools, universities and businesses. As we have already said, in 2021 alone, more than 1,500 new companies have been created and there has been an increase in investment that is six times the average of the previous three years. However, a joint study by the Inter-American Development Bank and HolonIQ platform, also tells us that more than half of the funding over the last five years has gone to training and retraining of active workers and only 26% has gone to primary and secondary education, not to mention early childhood, which receives only 6% of the funds.

These figures raise the question of whether this promising development really responds to the needs, priorities and demands of the education sector in a region with major problems in terms of equity and quality of learning, which begin to take shape in the early years of education.

Let us review what the study tells us by geographical area, focusing on a few countries, and what are the characteristics of these ecosystems in each of them.


EdTech_América latina y el Caribe_Mapa

Source: EdTech in LAC (2021). BID & Holon IQ.

Central America: increasing accessibility

According to the IDB and Holon IQ analysis. With 140 million inhabitants and diverse countries and economies, mainly oriented towards agriculture, tourism and banking, Central American countries are focusing on increasing the accessibility of education.

Mexico, the second largest economy in LAC, concentrates the largest share of EdTechs in the Central American region, with more than 150 of which just over a third (37%) provide early childhood, primary and secondary education services, compared to 45% that focus on workforce retraining and 14% on higher education. Those dedicated to young people focus on STEM, language learning, augmented and virtual reality, communication with parents, management systems, tutoring or exam preparation. 

Andean Group: focus on rural areas

The geographical and social characteristics of these countries require a focus on investment in the accessibility and infrastructure of education in rural areas.

In Colombia, with close to 100 EdTechs, there is a strong set of EdTechs providing services in primary and secondary education (33%), ranging from language learning and systems to support school management and communication, to tutoring platform, robotics kits and STEAM education. Moreover, as in Mexico, companies dedicated to the retraining of professional qualifications predominate, with 53%.

In Peru, with almost 45 education technology companies, the proportion of those focused on early childhood, secondary and primary education is 30%, compared to 28% focused on higher education and 42% on workforce. Another notable feature is the youth of its companies (half were formed less than five years ago), indicating that it is an emerging ecosystem. K-12 focused startups include classroom management systems, educational games, chatbots and science education.

Southern Cone: Brazil, the undisputed leader in the EdTech universe

The Southern Cone sub-region includes three of the largest economies in Latin America and the Caribbean and concentrates most of the population and its economies are more industrialised and technified than those of the rest of the region.

In Argentina, with just over 100 EdTech companies, only 26% provide services in primary and secondary education. The majority of companies (61%) focus on workforce training

Brazil, with the largest economy and population in the region, alone accounts for more than half of all education startups, with almost 900 EdTech companies. Their ecosystem is the most mature in the region (some are even listed on the stock exchange and 75% of them are more than five years old). They also have the largest percentage (40%) devoted to early childhood, primary and secondary education.

With some 150 companies, Chile has a high number of companies on a per capita basis. It has the highest percentage of companies dedicated to early childhood education, with artificial intelligence robots, animated storybooks and communication apps for parents. In the primary and secondary education sector, the focus is on STEM, test preparation and school management systems.

Caribbean: the challenge of connecting 7,000 islands to the internet

With approximately 43 million residents, internet access is a challenge for EdTech development in the region, as its geography, with more than 7,000 islands, makes internet connection difficult for those living outside the main cities.

The Caribbean is a nascent ecosystem with approximately 20 EdTech start-ups. With 60%, they have the highest percentage of EdTech dedicated to primary and secondary education, double that of the training and retraining sector (30%). Among the former, those dedicated to school management systems, exam preparation and tutoring support stand out.

Lessons learnt

EdTech_LAC_BID_Holon IQ

Now that we have seen what there is, let us look at what is missing, taking into account the specific characteristics of a region where, as we have already said, there are still large “debts” in terms of equity and quality of learning. What conclusions can we draw from this picture described and analysed by the IDB and Holon IQ?

  • We need solutions adapted to the context of vulnerability. It is true that, in a region facing one of the worst socio-economic crises in recent years and with the worst performing education systems in the world, innovative solutions and new approaches and ideas are needed. However, these solutions must be planned and adapted to the local contexts, issues and realities of each education system. If we cater only to the needs of the market, we will be leaving many people behind.
  • More EdTechs focused on early childhood, primary and secondary education. As we have seen, in almost all the ecosystems analysed, education startups are highly focused on reskilling and retraining the workforce. However, those dedicated to primary and secondary education are not as developed as they should be, and in early childhood, except in the case of Chile, where there are 3% of EdTechs focused on this sector of the population, the percentage in the rest of the countries studied is symbolic and does not reach 1%.
  • Development opportunities for teacher training and Big Data. Nor do there seem to be many EdTechs dedicated to one of the fundamental elements of the education system: teachers. Their training and support needs must be addressed and offer a great field of opportunity for companies willing to take up the challenge. Although school management and administration systems are mentioned, solutions based on Big Data and artificial intelligence to diagnose and address specific learning problems are missing. This field of data-driven assessment and diagnosis also offers enormous potential for improving our education systems, which education technology startups can and should take on board.
  • Public-Private Partnership. As the study states, educational technology has the potential to be a powerful driver of transformation in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, the size of the challenge is immense and that is why public-private partnerships are essential. Only by working together, and always putting the region’s children and young people at the centre, can we improve the quality of learning and guarantee them the education and future they deserve.

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