Of all the areas where artificial intelligence (AI) technologies could make the most impact, education could well be the furthest reaching – as well as the most egalitarian.
Many examples of this, as with many industries disrupted by AI, have explored how artificial intelligence will augment teachers’ current skills, rather than entirely eradicating it. Speaking to McKinsey this time last year, Jennifer Rexford, computer science chair at Princeton University, noted that if you flip the question – what is AI not good at? – then social skills and creativity are the key remaining issues.
“Machines may behave in ways that seem creative, but they’re really born of exhaustive enumeration and evaluation of the underlying data,” said Rexford. “It’s not born of that spark of creativity.
“That’s a clarion call for thinking about not only retraining but even basic education,” Rexford added. “The way we teach today… doesn’t put enough emphasis on creativity and social perceptiveness and design and working in teams.”
Yet not every education system is the same. Take China for instance. It is the largest education system in the world – but according to one company, it is not entirely equal. “There is high quality education, however high-quality teachers are rare,” explains Dr Wei Cui, partner at Squirrel AI Learning. “One in a million. It’s [also] very expensive to hire high quality teachers – especially for a personalised education plan.”
Squirrel AI aims to provide ‘adaptive learning’ for students across all regions and cities in China by utilising artificial intelligence and big data analysis techniques. As every student has his or her own individual capacity for learning, the company argues, traditional, linear teaching methods, are not as effective. Hence a personalised plan, which assesses a student’s point of learning, then focuses almost exclusively on their weaknesses.
The company’s award-winning solution – it picked up the Bloomberg Businessweek Business Innovation Award of 2018 earlier this month – is now used across approximately 300 cities in China, with 200 learning centres. ‘Let each child have an AI super teacher’ is the company’s tag line.
“Every student can learn at their own pace,” explains Wei. “The students can have their own customised learning materials and learning path. Our system is to improve students’ learning efficiency.
“For example, [if] every student needs to spend two hours on their homework, using our system the high performance students only need to take about 30 minutes – that’s it.”
The egalitarian nature of the product focuses on bridging the gap for education in China by both cost and gender. Many times, it is both at once. Dr Wei argued families with lower incomes, if they can only choose one child – China’s one-child policy having been relaxed in 2013 – will choose boys over girls.
Writing for Forbes in December, Joe McKendrick noted how the system does not mitigate between a ‘good’ or ‘poor’ student. “With an AI engine supporting personalised instruction, coursework can focus on strengthening their understanding in key subjects,” he wrote.
“We can help every family for high quality education,” Wei added. “The students – their family doesn’t need to pay to go to the high quality school, don’t need to pay for the one-to-one tutoring, the experienced teachers. The system we can replicate is anywhere, any time – it is unlimited.”
You can find out more about Squirrel AI by visiting here.