By the end of 2023, it is estimated that the education technology market, commonly referred to as EdTech, will reach a value of $270.5 billion. A 16% compound annual growth rate is expected during the forecast period through 2026.

A Global Data report provides insight into the booming industry:

The surge in disposable income of families coupled with government initiatives across economies to provide technically advanced education facilities to students has been the primary driver favoring market growth. Furthermore, the growing popularity of blended learning along with the soaring adoption of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) such as ChatGPT, Perplexity AI, BARD, Chatsonic AI, Jasper Chat, and LaMDA, among others in the education sector is also expected to bode well for EdTech market growth over the next five years.

While these artificial intelligence (AI) technological advancements are rapidly coming on the scene, most people are widely unfamiliar with their capabilities, let alone their names. But the U.S. K-12 education sector is not shying away. 

In an effort to be innovative and prepare students for the rapidly changing world they will graduate into, administrators are purchasing EdTech equipment, electronic platforms, tools, gadgets, and even some gimmicks.

But what is the rate of return in terms of improved student learning for all this spending, teacher training, and tech-troubleshooting time? There is little evidence to show.

The United States, once an education leader internationally, currently ranks 25th in the world for K-12 students averaging across math, science, and reading scores based on the most recent PISA data. U.S. students placed 37th in math, 18th in science, and 13th in reading.

Comparing student achievement year-over-year, the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams reveal a large drop in student scores after the tech-intensive remote learning period. Yet despite the promised student learning results not materializing, we can expect that most of the education establishment will champion more solutions from the EdTech world. Screens to the rescue!

Since the beginning of the 20th century, innovators in every generation have predicted that a golden age of education would soon dawn with the next technological advancement. From Thomas Edison’s belief that the motion picture would replace the textbook to Mark Zuckerberg putting $900 million behind more screen time for children and promising to truly “personalize learning,” all effort and money seems to bow at the feet of more EdTech. 

Take a typical school tour, and you’re likely to hear administrators tout computer-based learning, the absence of libraries in favor of laptops in tech labs, or the recent addition of 3D printers. These are meant to signal that the school is preparing students for the 21st century. The problem is that student learning results tell a conflicting story.

The great irony of our age is that with each technological advancement, it is not tech savviness that becomes more vital, but social savviness. As digital platforms, workforce software, and the overall internet-of-things become more intuitive, the learning curve flattens. The idea that preparation for the ubiquity of tech in the workplace requires more screen time in the classroom is patently false. 

What students need more than ever — and employers are desperate to find in graduates — are the skills that screen time is actually degrading: emotional intelligence, communication and storytelling, broad social awareness, and virtue. Yes, these skills require immersion in great literature, philosophy, and art, as well as conversations around difficult concepts and ideas, which are being pushed aside in most traditional schools. Additionally important is tangible, hands-on learning such as lab experiments. 

All this must occur in a school environment emphasizing relationships. Students need hours upon hours of patient engagement with peers and adults alike, working side-by-side in the pursuit of truth. They need real, face-to-face conversations, and they need them to be the dominant form of instruction. Yet, the education establishment, including the teachers’ unions, still wonders why school closures and Zoom sessions didn’t deliver.

The reality is that while each child is unique—with different strengths, interests, learning styles, and background knowledge—the majority need the structure of a physical classroom. They need live teachers in the same room delivering instruction, providing real-time support, and facilitating conversations among students. Especially for younger students, the less time they are plugged into digital devices, the better for brain and social development and beyond. (This is not to say that some students don’t thrive in blended and online learning environments.)

Nevertheless, EdTech innovators will continue to promise administrators that more technology is the solution to the learning void — regardless of any valid supporting data.

The promise is an expensive illusion benefiting the innovators’ pocketbooks while leaving our children increasingly atomized and unprepared. It’s time for actual education — not EdTech — to drive the conversation on how to get American children to learn proficiently again.