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25 Apr 2024
Pravindharan Balakrishnan

BETT as a Global Agenda: Colonizing Futures and Affective Ideologies

In this blogpost, Pravindharan Balakrishnan reflects on the BETT Show, which in his view represents a global promissory agenda of education, invoking the “affective ideology of EdTech”. A part of NORRAG’s digitalisation of education blog series, this blogpost is the second in a two blogpost mini-series on EdTech summits.

Introduction

The Covid 19 crisis has accelerated the dominance of technology companies in global education governance. Owing to the boom of educational technology (EdTech) and artificial intelligence (AI) in education, educational technology trade shows, such as Scandinavian Educational Technology Transformation (SETT) and the BETT Show, have become key global platforms to push for EdTech as a global agenda. Based on the definition of Elfert and Ydesen (2023), global agendas unite educational actors “behind a supposedly universal agenda of critical significance” (p. 200). Taking this definition into account, I argue that my recent observations at BETT highlight how EdTech is mobilized as a promissory vision in the future of the global education landscape.

In essence, BETT is an educational trade show that is marketed as the world’s leading EdTech event where educators, technology corporations, and other educational stakeholders convene to celebrate the latest advancements in EdTech. In recent times, educational trade shows have been scrutinized because they give direct access for the EdTech industry to approach educational actors at all levels (Player-Koro et al., 2018) and legitimize EdTech as a new authority in the global education landscape (Gulson & Witzenberger, 2022). Taking a critical perspective, my first experience of BETT resulted in the crystallization of my two major assumptions in regards to global education governance: the colonisation of educational futures through techno-governance and the affective ideologies of EdTech.

Constructing techno-futures in the global education space

Future-making in education has become attractive and desirable in the global education governance as illustrated by recent educational initiatives by international organizations such as UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative and OECD’s Learning Compass 2030 (Robertson, 2022). BETT reminded me of John Urry’s message of ‘futures are now everywhere’ (2016) as technology corporations invoke the future as the central discourse to promote their products. Drawing on some salient messaging, Adobe prides itself as the only creative tool schools need to prepare students for the future. Similarly, Intel Corporation states that their innovative technology solutions can future-proof schools, unlock teachers’ superpowers and accelerate digital equity. BETT Futures represents a platform aimed at new startups to promote their services, products, and programs in an elevator pitch formation. One presentation that caught my interest was Code To The Future, an American-based EdTech company that provides a computer science immersion program for elementary school students in order to prepare them for high-demand jobs in the future. Here, the inclusion of AI, the politics of the uncertain labour market, and elementary school curriculum are all tied together within the temporalities of the future. The construction of techno-futures in the global education space becomes increasingly evident as EdTech invokes the concept of future as a way to put itself in a position of authority, reshaping the order of global governance of education. By attaching technology to the futures discourse, BETT legitimizes a global governance agenda steered by promissory narratives of a technological future for education.

The ‘affective ideology’ of EdTech

BETT felt like a buzzing celebration filled with excitement and glam. A lot of smiles, bright colours, and well-dressed stewards, playing to positive and bright emotions. Taking into account that emotions are relational, influencing human subjects within the social fields that they inhabit, BETT produces affects to shape how technology is seen as powerful, progressive, and creating endless possibilities. Here, I would like to invoke ‘affective ideology’, a concept that Zemblyas (2022) defines as the coming together of ‘individual and social bodies’ to be attuned through a shared orientation of the world (p. 514). From social media postings and reflective essays from presenters, the circulation of positive stories and affective discourses are central. Another example of ‘affective ideologies’ is ‘Kid Judge Bett’, a student-led awards section where learners select their favourite exhibition stands and products. The positive rhetoric interaction between learners and largely EdTech companies mobilizes broader affective conditions in the taking up of EdTech in schools and communities. Affective ideologies lead to an uncritical acceptance of a certain agenda and often times masks deeply ingrained problems. Affect in education not just facilitates the circulation of certain logics, but also shapes and sustains desirable practices (Matus, 2017). In the case of BETT, mobilizing EdTech as a global agenda for the ‘common good’, might have implications for education that we have yet to fully observe.

Final thoughts

The BETT Show is not just an extravagant trade show – it represents a global agenda where educational futures are constructed, and technology in education presented in a positive light masking any negative consequences, such as increasing marketization and business-orientation of education to the detriment of educational visions that foreground equality and democracy. In his current age where AI pervades the global education landscape, it is vital to keep a critical eye on how EdTech is championed as a global promissory vision as the consequences of this vision are potentially very problematic.

About the Author:

Pravindharan Balakrishnan is a PhD student in the School of Education, Communication and Society at King’s College London. His doctoral studies explore the role of international organizations and global technology corporations in education.

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