On a laid-back Sunday afternoon, while reading about some use-cases on AI Chatbots, a WhatsApp message popped up on my kid’s school group: “PTM ( Parent-Teacher Meeting ) tomorrow at 10 AM.” It suddenly intrigued me to think about how can AI be useful for the large, growing education sector?

Many questions crisscrossed my mind:

  • What are the potential benefits?
  • What could be the flip sides of it?
  • Will AI take up the jobs of teachers?

As a result, I decided to talk to a few teachers. The next day, when I spoke to them, post the PTM, I realized there were two very different schools of thought. A small group supported the use of AI, whereas the majority was strongly opposed to the idea. This is when I decided to address the problem statements stated by the teachers, demystify some of the cliches and explore how can AI be of help.

Conventional thinking is that the education sector is one where human-to-human interaction is at the core. However, the last two years of the pandemic have inflicted a paradigm shift. Students have been taking classes virtually. Therefore, wouldn’t it be a safe assumption that AI in education is not about replacing humans, but it is about using computer intelligence to make the education system more effective, efficient, and responsive.

Here’s how I’d like to substantiate the argument/assumption made above and also bust some of the myths around this intuitive, futuristic tech:

Challenge: “AI will replace us and we will be rendered jobless.”

What AI Can Do: AI in education is not about robots replacing humans as teachers but is about using computer intelligence to help teachers and students augment the whole ecosystem more responsive, efficient, and effective. AI, if deployed properly, will ease out teachers from mundane stuff and that time can be used for more personalized attention. The intuitiveness of AI and computer intelligence is quite capable of bringing automation to the right processes. For example, A robot grader/automatic grader will easily replace part of the grading system.  Another example is automating the checking of MCQ tests, filling in the blanks, etc.

Challenge: “Children need additional support at home to understand the study material. Children suffering from learning disabilities can only be assisted during the school hours; in physical form.”

What AI Can Do: This is another myth. AI-tutored programs are paving the way for AI-assisted learning. These programs can easily help the children learn the basics and fundamentals easily. Also, AI algorithms are maturing to provide comprehensive feedback and progress tracking. You can share the analysis with teachers who can work on specific areas for improvement. AI will empower each student by matching their level of understanding and need. AI-enabled tools can be successfully trained to help students with special needs. Adaptive learning is an application of AI, which shouldn’t be ignored. For example, Thinkster Math, a start-up by IIT and BITS alumni, assigns each student a behind-the-scenes tutor who watches their mental process unfold step-by-step on an iPad screen.

Challenge: “We don’t have time to give personalized attention to each student”

What AI Can Do: AI can be of great help in identifying the gaps in learning, and provide quick feedback, which, in turn, can help children understand the concepts better, and focus on not repeating the same mistakes. Also, AI facilitates Data Accumulation which suggests related content for the students. For example, Deep Learning technology from Content Technologies, Inc. (CTI)  helps create customized textbooks that fit the needs of specific courses for students.

Challenge: “Excessive use of devices and digitization is bad for children”

What AI Can Do: While there is no denying the fact that excessive use of tech may cripple the imaginative mind and original thinking, however, AI helps in generating smart content with digital lessons, e-books, simulation, visualization, and personalized learning. All of this brings in interactivity and reasoning-based learning. Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Learning is providing a host of AI-based solutions in the K-12 education space like math, literacy and ELA, world languages, and applied sciences.

Challenge: “Some students get up early for studies. We can’t be available to answer their queries at that time. Many students are quite introverted and shy away from asking questions in the classroom.”

What AI Can Do: Learning shouldn’t be time-dependent. AI-enabled virtual assistants can be of great help for students in resolving their queries. Not just that they can provide elaborate explanations too. This helps in boosting the confidence of the child who is introvert and hesitant to ask questions in the classroom.

Brainly is a community app for students where 350 million students and experts put their heads to crack the toughest questions given as homework assignments. Isn’t that simply brilliant? MIKA offers AI-based tutoring tools for students too busy for after-school tutors.

Challenge: “Teachers find it difficult to keep up with the latest trends and tools for teaching; we are compared with digital assistants!”

What AI Can Do: There are digital platforms and websites that help teachers design curricula, help incorporate interactive elements, video, audio, etc. These are all assisting tools for teachers that only augment their knowledge delivery. Cloud-based Netex Learning  is one such example. The presentation Translator is yet another example. It is an AI-based solution that can create subtitles in real-time mode to make students learn in their native language.

Like that, I can go on and on to describe how AI can provide great benefits to both teachers and students.

While it is not entirely incorrect that technology is well poised to automate a huge proportion of conventional workload thus disrupting the traditional ways of working. Education, like any other sector, is no exception to this phenomenon.

 However, the role of a teacher is just not about teaching. It involves a lot many other things like empathy, grit, and organizational skills. Will AI or AI-assisted robots be able to replace that? Looks tough as of now!

Also, another important thing is about a pervasive, sustainable ‘education for all’. In the year 2015 UNESCO passed a resolution “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. One of the key goals listed in it was ensuring universal, and equal access to quality education. Do you think it is possible to cover the entire surface with just humans? Extremely difficult, and that is where AI-assisted learning works wonders in creating a level-playing field.

By Smruti Gandhi

Smruti has a rich academic & professional background. After completing post graduation from S P Jain Institute of Management Studies , Smruti has worked with Dun & Bradstreet, Great Place to Work before joining Grey Head Media.

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