How to enhance education with AI

How to enhance education with AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) holds infinite possibilities to redefine work and life, which will result in redefining education. BESA’s Cleo Fatoorehchi examines the AI market and ways the technology can be used in the classroom

At Bett 2018, while some will make you try on VR headsets, others will explain why Augmented Reality (AR) is the new black, and still others will convince you of the benefits of using AI.

Experts have extensively discussed the various scenarios emerging on the back of an AI-focused world, and they all agree: machines will not replace humans. We will not live in a Matrix-like world.


Instead, AI holds infinite possibilities to redefine work and life purpose, which will result in redefining education, too.

The jobs that can be done faster by machines – for example, scanning thousands of documents for law cases – will indeed be done by machines. But only so that humans can focus on the interesting, judgment-based element of the work, which machines are unlikely to learn.

Likewise, teachers will not be replaced. If they acquire an AI assistant to help them monitor the class more easily and comprehensively, it is only as an aid to free their time to do what they do best: teaching new things to children. Actually, teachers are more necessary than ever and, with AI, they will be able to deliver engaging, interactive lessons adapted to their classroom in a way they couldn’t do before.

According to Rose Luckin, professor of learner centred design at the UCL Knowledge Lab, University College London: “AI is not going to replace people. We will still need the empathy, reasoning and critical thinking of (human) teachers to educate our children.

But we can make their jobs easier and more efficient by removing some of the excessive workload for example, in assessing pupils or bridging gaps in pupil attainment.”

This is also why the education sector now talks of developing “21st century skills”, rather than just using schools as a place to acquire knowledge.

Developing know-how instead of know-what, for example teamwork, leadership, listening, staying positive, dealing with people and managing crises and conflict, is the redefinition of education when machines can “remember” more than a human brain.


So, technology and AI only represent the new tools for teachers to use. In particular, AI can be really useful to deliver personalised learning. Many of the Bett Futures companies exhibiting in

January 2018 were demonstrating this potential.Vocal Recall, for example, allows for personalised audio feedback to each student through a QR code. One teacher describes this product as revolutionary: “It takes me less time to make feedback, I can include more detail, and the students prefer it. They engage with it more readily and actually do what I ask them to do!”

Another start-up, ITSI, provides teachers with a platform to see a real-time overview of class behaviour through user-analytics. “It gives educators the opportunity to explore individual attainment and engagement to see how students are interacting with their books and the information in general, which can lead to effective adaptation of the resources provided in order to create engaging material going forward,” ITSI’s founder, Gary Bryant, says.

For Auris Tech, the use of AI enables teachers to give more support to the children who struggle. In reading, for instance, the Fonetti app listens to children reading aloud and encourages them by highlighting the words they get right and pointing out any that are missed-out or incorrectly spoken. This means all children in the classroom benefit from a virtual one-on-one session reading aloud, and those facing difficulties will see the teacher spending more time with them.

NetSupport, an innovative company that has been around for over 25 years, also taps into the new possibilities of AI. At Bett 2018, it launched a new app, ReallySchool, which ensures a most flexible approach to capturing observations in the classroom.

Its marketing communications manager, Katie Hall, says that it helps teachers save time while looking at all aspects of a child’s behaviour. For example, “it details the targets of behaviour, communication, language, literacy, numeracy, physical development, PSE, understanding the world, and interpersonal skills that reception class children should be able to achieve.

It also allows teachers to log the different levels of mastery as a child learns. One key benefit of ReallySchool for the pupils is that they don’t realise they are being assessed and therefore they behave naturally. For teachers, this means their assessments are more accurate.”

CENTURY Tech is another EdTech company that is motivated by the potential of AI to “ease unnecessary burdens”, as its CEO and founder, Priya Lakhani, says.

“Teachers no longer need to generate data themselves, as it is collected as students use the platform. Real-time data insights are powerful in enabling teachers to track progress immediately as well as provide timely evidence based interventions.”

She adds: “If a teacher does all the assessing themselves, by the time the data has been analysed it might be too late for a pupil. Their deficiency in a certain area of maths, for example, won’t have been picked up until after they have moved on to the next stage of learning. Interventions need to be ‘in the moment’.”

However, Rose Luckin, who made it into the Seldon List as the ‘Dr Who of AI’, is clear that teachers need to be part of developing these AI-fuelled products and services: “Teachers need to be more aware of AI and its potential benefits, and part of the dialogue about its use. It is important that they drive this innovation.”

She adds: “The reality is that AI is here to stay. Companies are spending huge amounts of money on its development. Teachers need to be involved in that process and have a say in what AI can do for education, otherwise they risk one day having it imposed on them and their students.”

This is why the EDUCATE project, of which Rose Luckin is the director, aims to bring together entrepreneurs and innovators, with academics, researchers and educators, to deliver world-class EdTech products and services.

Based at UCL’s Institute of Education, and match-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and UCL’s partners – UCL Engineering, the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), Nesta and F6S – EDUCATE offers a rigorous and comprehensive training programme focusing on pedagogical research to help EdTech start-ups, SMEs, entrepreneurs and educators develop, evaluate and improve their products and services with the use of research evidence.

Ultimately, AI and other forms of EdTech are always used with the best interests of the children and their teachers at heart, and serve to help teachers deliver the world‑class education that the UK is renowned for. The technology in service of the human, not the opposite; no need for us to be afraid.

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