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In Perspective: An Interview with the OECD's Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin

We sat down with Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, Deputy Head of the Centre for Research and Innovation at the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), to discuss our shared interests in effective education and skills policy, with a particular focus on development and implementation of innovation within schools.


The OECD comprises 37 member countries, and aims to shape policies that foster prosperity, equality, opportunity and wellbeing for all. The OECD exists to be the bridge between research and policy. The Education & Skills directorate helps individuals and nations to identify and develop the knowledge and skills that drive better jobs and better lives, generate prosperity and promote social inclusion.


We covered:

  • How will the relationship between governments and the EdTech sector evolve? How can it be improved?

  • Is slow adoption leading EdTech companies to focus on consumer and corporate opportunities rather than schools?

  • Is shaping societal attitudes towards tech in schools the key to accelerating adoption?


Watch the highlights here, or read the summary and full interview below!


A summary of Stéphan’s comments is here and the full interview is below!


The OECD’s remit is to be the bridge between research and policymaking. This gap is acknowledged in all countries. Governments are led by politicians rather than technocrats and thus, there are sometimes gaps between what the research says and what policymakers are doing. This gap is unavoidable to some extent, as the timelines and logic of research and policymaking are not aligned.


The OECD’s EdTech work can be split into four sections:

  • On the needs and requirements of the next generation of children so that they are best equipped to meet the labour market that they’ll enter

  • On how to best shift from a regular curriculum to a competency-based curriculum

  • On specific EdTech and learning tech interventions

  • On the future role of teachers and other actors in the education system

In all countries, education provision is predominantly led by the public sector. This means that the system wants to be much more insulated against private interests than other sectors. It’s difficult to tally this ‘insulation’ principle and the desire to deliver digital products that improve learning outcomes, as governments rarely lead innovation! Value for money is important, but there need to be incentives for the innovating companies, too.


Partnerships between the State and private companies on device and internet access provide two example frameworks around which other EdTech markets can be developed/ enhanced.


Almost all countries are forging new digital strategies in the wake of the pandemic- systems now have a much better idea of what’s currently provided, gaps in provision, efficacy of provision, resilience of provision and where the obvious and necessary policy priorities should lie. With so much activity focused on this area, one of the OECD’s primary objectives has been keeping track of the interventions so that we can assess their success in the months ahead alongside relevant governments. This should lead to an acceleration in the creation of ‘good’ EdTech policy.


Stéphan’s top three most exciting areas of EdTech innovation:

  • Blockchain and credentialing

  • Classroom and teacher analytics (Brighteye agrees- see TeachFX)

  • Proctoring solutions (Brighteye agrees- see Rosalyn AI)

Stéphan’s views on barriers to accelerating EdTech market development and adoption:

  • Fragmented markets- making it difficult for companies to reach target customers and for the most effective innovations to achieve scale.

  • Teachers’ understanding of solutions varies- because implementation is shaped so heavily by an individual setting’s leadership, teacher skill and awareness.

  • Societal attitudes to tech in schools varies- everyone has an opinion on education provision informed by their own experience. Change can be difficult.

  • Equity between students is difficult to achieve without increased or reallocated funding- we need to know what the pre-requisites for learning are and then make sure that all students have access.

Readers should look out for the OECD’s digital education outlook, to be launched at its conference from 8th-10th June. There are 10 chapters that discuss the extent of tech integration within education systems. Chapters focus on themes including AI and personalisation, blockchain and credentialing, learning analytics, tech for learners with special educational needs and a host of others with broad relevance across education systems.



The full interview is below… 👇


Brighteye: Stéphan, thank you so much for joining us. Would you mind giving us a summary of your career to date?


Stéphan: I have been with the OECD now for around 20 years, having focused on the integration of digital solutions within education systems in various guises since the beginning. I am now Deputy Head of the OECD’s Centre for Education Research and Innovation, which sits within the OECD’s Education and Skills Directorate (headed by Andreas Schleicher).


My work focuses on innovation in education, tackling fundamental issues like how to build more effective education systems and more recently on greater digitisation of education. This work is designed to help all 37 OECD-member countries and those beyond. Of course, there is variation in attitudes and priorities within these education systems, but greater tech adoption is clearly a strand being pursued in all member countries. An example of my ongoing work is a project focused on how we are using data and tech in education at a macro level across member countries- this considers how tech could be transformative in altering the delivery of education both in the classroom and in how we manage the education system (via data collection, assessment, system structures, funding allocations, etc.).


As a forward-looking organisation, digitalisation is increasingly at the heart of our work.


Brighteye: It’s great to hear that your interest and coverage of education and learning technology is expanding! How is the OECD defining EdTech?


Stéphan: Actually, we choose not to have a firm definition or even to attempt to write it down! We go with the flow as we feel it’s continually evolving.


But I tend to think about it in two parts: there is education technology and there is learning technology. Learning technology would usually be the part that is related to learning in or out of the classroom that directly relates to learners’ experiences, while education technology is much broader and includes things like data and management systems, credentialing, assessment and others.


Brighteye: Interesting and understandable, given the rate of change! So how would you categorise your work strands?


Stéphan: We work for governments first and foremost- our remit is to be the bridge between research and policy. This gap is acknowledged in all countries. Governments are, of course, led by politicians in our political systems, rather than technocrats and thus, there are sometimes gaps between what the research is saying on a given issue and what policymakers are doing. This gap is unavoidable to some extent, as the timelines and logic of research and policymaking are not aligned, but it remains essential for policy makers to know about solid research findings and for researchers to know what types of research would help advance public policies.


At the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, we have a forward-looking mission. Our work on education research has a number of key strands:

  • On the needs and requirements of the next generation of children so that they are best equipped to meet the labour market that they’ll enter

  • On how to best shift from a regular curriculum to a competency-based curriculum

  • On specific EdTech and learning tech interventions

  • On the future role of teachers and other actors in the education system


Of course, like lots of other organisations, we have undertaken an enormous amount of unexpected work on Covid. Naturally, given the immediate focus of governments and schools on remote learning, most of our work focused on rapid digitisation of previously analogue functions.


“We accelerated our work on AI, robotics, blockchain, and smart tech. In the process, we quickly realised that given that few countries had blanket device and internet access, the focus of our work needed to include a variety of technologies, rather than only these more advanced technologies.”

A lot of governments and families realised that tech is more important than they had previously assumed. For us, it was a great way of seeing the level of digitalisation and digital readiness within individual countries. Our first response was to work as speedily as we could to document and share what countries were doing so they could learn from one another. We also accelerated our work on AI, robotics, blockchain, and smart tech. In the process, we quickly realised that given that few countries had blanket device and internet access, the focus of our work needed to include a variety of technologies, rather than only these more advanced technologies. For example, governments’ focus switched to effective provision via mobile, internet, television, and radio. These mediums are often criticised for being one-way (no interaction between the learner and the teacher), but during the pandemic, governments have pursued and created more engaging ways of using these media via collaborations with industry, ‘celebrities’ and purpose-built content that encourages some form of role for learners. Interestingly, these multi-modal approaches were pursued both in lower-income countries as well as higher-income countries. But there is evidence that higher income countries have more effectively limited learning losses and school closures than lower income countries.


Brighteye: An interesting element of the rising profile of EdTech is how governments and policymakers are responding to the increased involvement of the private sector in a predominantly public service. What are your thoughts on this tension and where do you think we are heading?


Stéphan: Most countries are quite understandably in the process of reconsidering their digital strategies. It’s a good time to think ahead, set some achievable goals and pursue a mix of basic and more sophisticated digitisation themes. Of course, systems now have a much better idea of what’s currently provided, gaps in provision, efficacy of provision, resilience of provision and where the obvious and necessary policy priorities should lie. This is particularly important given the possibility of virus mutations and subsequent school and setting closures.


“Of course, systems now have a much better idea of what’s currently provided, gaps in provision, efficacy of provision, resilience of provision and where the obvious and necessary policy priorities should lie.”

The OECD has contributed to many of the initiatives in member and non-member countries- one of the most interesting parts of this is seeing the new one-off or trial interventions that countries are introducing. It really is bringing about a rapid transformation of education systems. Naturally, with so much activity focused on this area, one of our primary objectives has been keeping track of the interventions so that we can assess their success in the months ahead alongside relevant governments. Something we already knew about education systems and educators, though, is that people are conservative about change, perhaps because there are children involved and of course everyone wants to make sure that they receive as good, thorough and stable an education as possible.


In all countries, too, provision is predominantly led by the public sector. This means that the system wants to be much more insulated against private interests than other sectors i.e. there is some discomfort and squeamishness around the idea of profits being achieved in the public sector which spans government departments. It’s difficult to tally this ‘insulation’ principle and the desire to deliver digital products that improve learning outcomes, as governments rarely lead such innovation! Of course, value for money is extremely important, but there need to be incentives for the innovating companies, too. The most comparable sector is arguably health- health has established public-private sector operations partially because there is understanding that the most important factor is having something that works, even if the costs of delivery are quite high and the supplying companies make profit. Some would argue that involvement of the private sector challenges the notion of free education. I believe we will observe a sea-change in the coming months and years, as the education priority becomes having something that works as well as possible and delivers better outcomes for our children over and above our reticence around profits. This has certainly been the case during the pandemic, but we must also acknowledge that many companies provided their products for free during the worst months of the crisis, which is, of course, an unsustainable solution.


“In all countries, (education) provision is predominantly led by the public sector. This means that the system wants to be much more insulated against private interests than other sectors. It’s difficult to tally this ‘insulation’ principle and the desire to deliver digital products that improve learning outcomes, as governments rarely lead such innovation! Of course, value for money is extremely important, but there need to be incentives for the innovating companies, too.”

The aspect of this period of remote provision that I expect to set off new public-private relationships is the new requirement that every student have an internet connection and laptop (of course some schools entered this period with both in place). Governments don’t produce laptops and most have a limited role in internet speed and coverage, so there lies two relatively new, major relationships between public sector education and private sector providers. This will require some form of regulation, naturally, to ensure that companies charge fair prices, there is fair competition, and provide products that materially benefit students, teachers and settings- ideally all three! This is one of the two main topics that we are tackling in the current phase of the digital education project I outlined earlier. We are looking at digital delivery infrastructure in education as well as how governments are addressing transparency, ethics and other aspects of public procurement of products developed in the private sector. There needs to be an effective incentive structure that convinces the private sector to develop good and relevant solutions and also a light-touch regulatory structure to make sure that procurement is fair, that you get effective solutions and that you make the most of available data (using it to inform policy, tracking product impact, etc.).


As far as I am aware, EdTech accreditation structures are extremely limited across OECD countries. But I do believe that there is a need for a semi-accreditation system, perhaps that leads to a list of qualified providers with set standards on effectiveness (proven impact), compatibility (with other school technology systems) and financial sustainability that schools and other settings can access. This would be an evolution of what the UK had with BECTA from 1998-2011 via ‘purchasing frameworks’, but this new iteration would need to avoid BECTA’s issues on suspected anti-competitive behaviour. Countries need to be able to form a centralised market for EdTech and learning tech products, as Italy has done. But it’s so fragmented- there are lots of small decision makers. Such a system also needs to reward or at least acknowledge product and research investment, so that we can achieve continual improvement across categories. Again drawing a parallel with the medical industry, huge upfront investment is required on the side of the pharma firms on the assumption that this can be recovered if a successful product is formed and purchased for patients. Here, a substantial return on investment is possible- but it’s unclear yet if the same will hold true in education.


Brighteye: You’ve highlighted some really interesting regulatory challenges there. We share your hope that the best EdTech and learning tech products will reach students and that companies’ will be able to return their investment. What innovations or products are you most excited about?


Stéphan: My first comment here would be my perception that lots of progress is being made outside of the formal education structure (schools, colleges and universities)- in the private education sector, in employment and in consumer learning. This is partially because the markets are large, both B2B and B2C. It means that companies are potentially investing more time and capital into reaching these other customer groups over state schools, given the more straightforward sales routes.


On specific innovations I consider exciting:


It’s an interesting phrasing of the question. My level of excitement varies significantly and what I find exciting does not necessarily reflect the most impactful innovations. For example, I find myself most excited by ‘novelties’ rather than important, central innovations that make steady progress and improvements like learning management systems. But drawing out some areas from both sides of this lens:


I find blockchain exciting as a solution for credentialing mainly because it is technically ready now, so it exists, but is yet to become mainstream and adopted widely. Of course, it has a relatively limited scope, but this also means it has a very neat use case. The difficulty with this is creating institutional and legal infrastructure for its implementation. In my view, it’s coming soon!


Another strand that I find exciting but that I think will take a little longer to arrive is classroom analytics- products and solutions that give feedback to teachers on the way they are engaging with their students. Of course, one of the challenges here is agreeing what we want to see. But either way, if a teacher can track the way they are teaching with data, and even better, receive intelligent, responsive professional development, I think this could make a significant difference to teaching quality and therefore to learning outcomes. However, I think it’s really important that innovations like this aren’t rushed into the classroom- they must be shown to be effective and useful.


“If a teacher can track the way they are teaching with data, and even better, receive intelligent, responsive professional development, I think this could make a significant difference to teaching quality and therefore to learning outcomes.”

Brighteye note: We agree- see TeachFX!


A further area I consider exciting are intelligent learning systems and personalisation tools. Rather than seeing these innovations as threats to teachers, I prefer to think of these tools as supporting teachers to create new types of social interactions in the classroom and to help students outside of the classroom to practice different ideas and further their learning and interests. While these feel like buzzwords to you and me, personalised learning tools are not in many countries’ education systems, and even if they are, they tend to be focused narrowly on core subjects (English, maths and sciences).


A final area I am watching with interest is proctoring. I am wondering to what extent we will return to the ‘old school’ examination centres model and where we will see innovations that solve some of the challenges of invigilation, both remote and in-person.


Brighteye note: We agree- see Rosalyn AI!


Brighteye: All of those are extremely exciting potential developments, and of course, as you highlighted, application varies significantly between countries. Application appears to correlate with income level. Are there countries or regions that you feel are integrating innovations particularly effectively?


Stéphan: This is exactly what I am looking into at the moment!


There are a couple of examples I would draw out, for quite different reasons and without being definitive as to how ‘effectively’ they are integrating the innovations.


  1. The US is very strong in terms of investing and supporting new products- but it doesn’t necessarily always feed into adoption given the fragmented school system across states and districts with varied budgets, rarely ring-fenced for EdTech purchases.

  2. Italy has an interesting procurement model which makes good EdTech purchases easier for schools. Such policies are positive for product availability and the viability of EdTech businesses.

  3. The British model has a good system of engagement between suppliers and the demand side in education settings, overseen by the British Education Suppliers Association.

  4. The French government responded quickly to the requirements of remote learning when the pandemic struck via effective relationships between public and private sectors.


With hindsight, I would describe the examples above as interesting, rather than effective. I’m reticent to say they are good without finalising our (ongoing) analysis of responses to the pandemic by country. For instance, it is one thing to have a good process, but a very different thing to have the process used properly by stakeholders. An ‘effective’ system requires both! For example, it is one thing to say that every pupil needs a laptop, but it’s a very different challenge to make sure they are used effectively with the most appropriate software.


“It is one thing to have a good process, but a very different thing to have the process used properly by stakeholders. An ‘effective’ system requires both!”


Take the experience of interactive whiteboards. Having an interactive whiteboard is only as useful as the resources created for it. Effectiveness relies on teachers having resources for use on the whiteboard, but it’s clear that teachers didn’t automatically have the time, will or skills to develop such resources. Here, the mistake is to believe that if teachers understand how to use the whiteboard, then they will automatically understand whiteboard-specific pedagogy and what is best practice. But this said, perhaps an EdTech product isn’t good enough if it isn’t fully intuitive and doesn’t fit seamlessly into the lives of teachers and students in the classroom? No one had to teach me how to use my phone, for example!


Brighteye: You have outlined some of the issues that slow the implementation of innovations within education settings, for good or for bad. Could you summarise those barriers for us?


Stéphan: Yes, of course! There are many, but they are gradually being overcome. The top 5 barriers, I believe, are the following:


1. Fragmented markets- making it difficult for companies to reach target customers and for the most effective innovations to achieve scale.

2. Coherent engagement of stakeholders- it is surprisingly difficult to form comments that are applicable to an individual country’s education system, let alone internationally.

3. Teachers’ understanding of solutions varies- because implementation is shaped so heavily by an individual setting’s leadership, teacher skill and awareness of new innovations is patchy.

4. Societal attitudes to tech in schools varies- the education sector is difficult because everyone has an opinion informed by their own experience. Some believe tech in schools is great, others believe children’s interaction with tech should be limited. For example, one parent at parents’ evening might ask why there isn’t more tech in the classroom while another may complain that there is too much! The point I would make is this: we never hear this kind of issue in hospitals. We shouldn’t be doing the same in hospitals as we were 30 years ago, so shouldn’t we be open to changes in how we teach our children, how students gain degrees and professionals gain accreditations?

5. Equity between students is difficult to achieve without increased or reallocated funding- we need to know what the pre-requisites for learning are and then make sure that all students have access. For example, a teacher can’t plan a laptop or tablet-based lesson if only 80% of the class have access.


“One parent at parents’ evening might ask why there isn’t more tech in the classroom while another may complain that there is too much! The point I would make is this: we never hear this kind of issue in hospitals. We shouldn’t be doing the same in hospitals as we were 30 years ago, so shouldn’t we be more open to changes in how we teach our children?”

Brighteye: This has been fantastic, Stéphan. Thank you so much for taking the time. One final question: what should we be looking out for from you over the next few months?


Stéphan: Our digital education outlook, to be launched at our conference from 8th-10th June is the one I would like to highlight to your audience.


There are 10 chapters that discuss the extent of tech integration within education systems. Chapters focus on themes like AI and personalisation, blockchain and credentialing, learning analytics, tech for learners with special educational needs and a host of others with broad relevance across education systems.


If you missed our 10 Principles for an Effective and Equitable Educational Recovery, co-developed with Education International, the federation of teacher unions, I would also recommend them. Teachers and their organisations will indeed play a key part in the recovery and in how EdTech is used within schools.


It’s all worth a read…but I would say that!