UK Firms Offer IT Solutions To Education Sector

When it comes to the application of information technology in education, British companies and institutions can teach the world a thing or two.

A number of British firms and their Japanese partners took part in the Educational IT Solutions Expo (EDIX) at the Tokyo Big Sight convention centre over three days in mid-May, attracting interest for content as well as their cutting-edge hardware.

The event, marking its fifth year, is the largest industry trade show in Japan and brought together more than 600 exhibitors with an estimated 26,000 visitors, primarily from the government sector, school administrators, teachers and procurement officers, as well as electronics companies and IT and network service providers.

“It is very important for us to be at this event again this year because it helps to raise our profile in the market, but also because it’s a great opportunity to meet up with our existing customers and meet others that we generally would not have access to,” said Kiel Hamm, a marketing consultant for the Tokyo office of Oxford University Press.

Taking part for a third consecutive year, Hamm said he could see “a definite increase in the size of the event.”

The company was displaying a wide range of educational books, as well as applications linked to text books from the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf series.
“We have had a lot of interest in our products, ranging from pre-elementary all the way through to universities and English conversation schools,” he said.

“We have high hopes for the Japanese market as the recent educational reforms mean there are going to be a lot of opportunities for us here in the future,” Hamm said.
NetLearning Inc. also had a strong presence at the expo, in part to promote its alliance with The Open University on the UK institution’s globally acclaimed MBA programme.

“It is a really good programme because it is online, it’s flexible, students are able to design their own schedules and can study at any time and anywhere,” said Jean Roy, a spokesman for the NetLearning.
“The concept of learning on-line has not fully caught on in Japan as students here tend to prefer traditional-style lectures in classrooms, but we are beginning to see some changes and we’re very hopeful that this will catch on fairly soon,” he said.

The office for the Open University MBA was set up in 2010 with the specific aim of meeting Japan’s growing need for global human resources development. Working with the university, NetLearning is constantly evolving its products and services – particularly important given the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) – and is a core member of Japan’s MOOC organisation, which was created in November 2013.

“Many of the people attending this expo are looking for platforms for e-learning, but we still believe it is very important for us to be here,” said Shuji Yamada, executive officer of NetLearning. “For Japanese customers, these face-to-face opportunities are a major opportunity.”

Yumi Dew was attending the show as part of her efforts to seek a local partner to introduce a technology for children with learning difficulties.

The technology being made available through her Engaging Eyes company helps to identify vision-related problems in children at an early age, enabling them to benefit from specialist assistance.

“There is very little help available at the moment for these children,” she said. “The system is already in use in the UK and I’m very hopeful that it could be adopted here as well because it can dramatically improve children’s lives.”

Narika Corp. was another UK-related company taking part in EDIX, showcasing the active white boards devised by its British partner.

Based in Blackburn, Promethean Ltd. has seen a surge in sales of its integrated interactive technologies in Japan, thanks in large part to a new generation of tech-savvy teachers taking up posts in Japanese schools, as well as increased emphasis on learning English.

“We have seen a change in the way in which visitors to the event think,” said Junko Nishiyama, chief engineer for Narika Corp. “In the first year, people wanted to know what new technology was available, but now we find they are actively looking to procure equipment to be installed in schools.”

Please refer to our Education and Training Team’s sector page for more information on the education industry in Japan.

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Article by Julian Ryall, July 2014