Artificial intelligence in school: Not just another brick in the wall

Virtually all fields benefit from advances in artificial intelligence, including education.

Latin America is a region with multiple deficiencies, but a lot of potentials. However, to take advantage of this potential requires deep transformations in different sectors that allow Latam to take advantage of the tools offered by the contemporary world. Education is one of the areas where the region requires more profound changes. Latin America can take advantage of advances in Artificial Intelligence to make these transformations more efficiently and with more reliable data.

Artificial intelligence is a contemporary reality.

The contemporary world works with the solutions offered by artificial intelligence. People use AI daily, sometimes without notice. AI is in the core of virtual assistants that manage personal agendas; Facebook’s suggestions of new friends, or the cars that park by themselves. The air traffic control is almost entirely automated. Virtually all fields benefit from advances in artificial intelligence, including education.

Different international organizations have indicated that investment in Artificial Intelligence may allow the region to raise its Gross Domestic Product, which this year threatens to remain stagnant. This investment would make different productive sectors more efficient, such as agriculture, customer service, or government procedures.

Artificial intelligence also brings new challenges, such as threats to cybersecurity. However, this same technology can also be used to respond more quickly and effectively to menaces, and like a forensic tool.

Despite all these technological advances, today’s classrooms have not changed much. Emerging technologies are influencing modern societies in unimaginable ways, but education and training systems have remained static for decades, becoming inappropriate technologies for the new reality. However, forecasts indicate that in the coming years, this scenario will be radically transformed. 

Artificial intelligence to improve education in Latin America

Education, however, has been an area where this technology has found fewer applications, even though EdTech is one of the industries with enormous growth potential today. In the region, education implementations are counted and, in most cases, these are through private startups that do not have government support.

Meanwhile, today’s children require an education that teaches them how to think, and that strengthens “soft skills” such as critical thinking, curiosity, values, and teamwork.

The educational field is one of the most that could be reinforced and transformed thanks to the new artificial intelligence systems and their ability to contribute to the personalization of learning. This fact is held by a group of researchers and academics who, endorsed by the University of Standford, published the Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030 report in September 2018. According to the study, virtual reality, adaptive learning, learning analytics, and online teaching will be necessary tools in classrooms in just fifteen years.

This study is the first one published within the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence (AI100) project. The objective of this project is to promote social debate about these technologies and guide the development of smart programs, sensors, and machines in an ethical manner. Twenty-four experts from different universities participate in the report. This text dissects the current panorama of AI in different areas and predicts which trends will consolidate by 2030 in each area, taking as a scenario a typical city in the United States.

In the case of education, the study highlights virtual reality, educational robotics, intelligent tutoring, and online learning systems or learning analytics as technologies that, in all likelihood, will occupy a prominent place in classrooms within fifteen years. 

However, in the classrooms where a technological component is included, the capacity that AI has to customize the teaching is limited. Teachers find themselves in a scenario where the improvement is superficial. The students watch the content via online videoconference but remain seated while they receive information as they would in a traditional classroom. Even so, memorization is usually more rewarded than curiosity and experimentation.

Artificial intelligence contributes to education

Artificial intelligence has many applications in education, from designing and improving teaching processes to tracking student progress and identifying learning problems more efficiently. These are some examples of the ways AI can improve knowledge.

Improve student performance

Online learning platforms use AI to improve student training. Among the pioneers, we can mention to Khan Academy and Coursera. These online platforms use the information generated by the students to find patterns that help identify which are the most successful lessons and which need to be improved. The data is used for improving student participation and increase the conclusion rates of students in the courses.

Support the work of teachers

Intelligent conversational software agents (chatbot) can act as teachers, classmates, or tutors in virtual classrooms. This type of software has an increasingly accelerated development, and its utility has been proven to generate conversations that are used to perform automatic and adaptive evaluations of responses even with open texts.

In addition to chatbots, robots are being developed to act as tutors in virtual courses. For example, the Watson system developed by IBM is being used as part of an experimental project of the global education company Pearson. The combination of Watson’s cognitive abilities with digital learning products this company aims to provide students with a more immersive learning experience, and an easy way to get help and knowledge when they need it by asking questions in natural language as they would with another student or with a teacher. In Chile, a startup developed an interactive robot that supports learning in the classroom.

Learning customization

In this context, perhaps the most significant contribution is the personalization of learning. This field is ensuring that each student has personalized learning of excellence, “says Thiago Feijão, co-founder of Eduqo, education and technology startup that attends more than 400 schools in Brazil. Eduqo is focused on personalizing learning through data analysis.

To explain the concept, Feijão assumes that the whole pedagogical process goes through the reflection of ‘what,’ ‘how’ and ‘why’ a child has to learn. Within the concept of personalization, much attention is paid to what the student has to learn due to the historical tendency to focus on the curriculum. “However, the ‘how’ is equally important. “What” focuses on the curriculum and content, and “how” is about the methodology, “he explains.

In this sense, the next steps of artificial intelligence in the pedagogical world will focus on the “how.” In this way, this tool will provide teachers with a better understanding of how their students learn and allow them to customize the curriculum according to their individual needs.

Today it is estimated that around 20% of private schools in Brazil already have some AI. 

Teacher role

The use of artificial intelligence allows teachers to automate many administrative tasks, which will make it easier for the instructor to have more time to concentrate on student learning. As a consequence, the tendency is to focus on the “how” and the “why.”

Each student is unique and has different dreams, contexts, and learning modes. So, the main challenge is to find a way to help everyone respecting these differences. The tools generated with AI resources will allow each student to learn in their own way.

“For us, it means allowing each child’s dream and talent to be respected and connected to the learning process,” says Bean.

Challenges for the future

Over the past decade, artificial intelligence applications have addressed many learning challenges, including language processing, reasoning, planning, and cognitive modeling.

Now, this field of computer science has a major challenge: how to prepare the next generations for a world that it’s quickly changing. The AI will help teachers to engage with their pupils. They should use it to support their student to develop a critical mind and useful abilities.