Investment in AI is essential to modernise the education sector


According to a new report AI in Education Market, AI in the US is set to grow by 47.5% by 2023.

Here in the UK, the government has announced ambitious plans to invest in AI, with a £1 billion investment in the industry declared in April 2018. Matt Hancock, former Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport asserted in a statement that artificial intelligence is “at the centre of our plans to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business”.

Despite this, investment in AI within the UK education sector appears to have been missed from the government’s agenda and with it a huge opportunity to modernise teaching and learning, with no mention made of either AI or investment in education technology in the 2018 Autumn budget.

Since its introduction, AI has divided opinion within the education sector, with enthusiasts seeing it as a solution to the sector’s woes and naysayers viewing it as a threat to high-quality teaching and jobs.

In reality, AI is neither a comprehensive solution, nor a threat. As with all technology, AI won’t resolve issues which rely on funding and policy from central government, or replace teachers in the classroom. What it does offer is the potential to make teaching easier for skilled staff and aid the recruitment and retention of education professionals.     
 
One of the areas in which AI is increasingly being used – and has the potential to expand hugely – is in data-driven solutions to improve learning experiences. For example, AI can be used within programs to identify a pupil’s strengths and weaknesses and to assess areas for improvement, truly differentiating learning for each child – a task with which many time-pressured teachers struggle.

Embedding AI within an education resource would enable a pop-up to recommend an activity to a child with the activity tailored to their own learning style: therefore helping them in an area in which they need to improve. Not only will this help teachers differentiate pupils’ learning, it would allow children to drive their own personalised learning pathway.

Additionally, AI has the potential to handle many of the administration jobs undertaken by teachers and could be used to significantly reduce marking, enabling teachers to spend more time directly helping children achieve greater learning objectives. AI could also be used to automatically register children walking through the school gate, removing this tedious job for teachers. This, in turn, could potentially aid the recruitment of other professionals into the sector, including much-needed STEM graduates, who may wish to enter teaching but are dissuaded by the current volume of administrative duties.    

Ultimately AI will not solve the education sector’s problems by removing workload in its entirety and AI robots will not replace high-quality teachers at the front of the classroom. On the contrary, I believe AI has a part to play in personalising the learning experience and in modernising an education system that hasn’t truly changed in the last 100 years – children may now have tablets in place of a chalkboard but our style of teaching remains largely unchanged.

In order for advances to take place, investment in AI must be taken seriously by the Department for Education and central government. By investing in AI we have the opportunity to make the UK a world leader in modern teaching practices – something which everyone in the education industry can truly celebrate.
07/01/2019