India needs artificial intelligence in the classroom

Technology-based education is set to become a mainstay despite the opposition and resistance from the old school.

 |  4-minute read |   29-12-2016
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For the uninitiated, the Webster dictionary defines artificial intelligence (AI), the word buzzing like a bee of late, as the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behaviour. The concept is exactly like what the science fiction movies have portrayed since decades, of a machine that can analyse, think, act accordingly and aid humans (though in a lot of movies they become villainous).

In the last half-a-decade, leaps in AI have been made with its application in wide ranging areas. Education is, albeit slowly, coming under the ambit of sectors that will be greatly affected (disrupted, if you will) by AI in near future.

AI has actually become a part and parcel of our everyday lives even though the term is not used frequently. The face recognition camera sensor, the Amazon or Flipkart search and suggestion, personal assistants on phone, self-driving cars by Google are all examples of AI that are around us, some deeply ingrained, some on trial, and many more futuristic.

In education, and I shall stick to higher education particularly, AI holds a lot of potential to address some key concerns that have plagued it.

Firstly, at the crux of education lies the fact that ideal learning happens on a one-to-one basis. While it may be desirable, it is not feasible.

Acute shortage and poor quality of available teachers are well known problems, especially in a country like India. AI can address these lacunae by being personal teachers for individual students. Like any new technology its accessibility is linked to scalability, but then existing AI models in other fields suggests it is achievable. While Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITS) have existed since 1970’s, the personalisation drive is being pushed by AI.

20121004143017embed_122916121735.jpg AI can help find existing core competencies of individuals and match with required skills and foster it. Photo: PTI

Secondly, the issue that grips higher education in India is that of poor employability standard of graduates. Reports have pegged the percentage of unemployability from 50 per cent to a staggering and disturbing 80 per cent.

AI can help in skilling, thereby addressing this pressing concern. AI can help find existing core competencies of individuals and match with required skills and foster it. AI systems can provide for the much neglected psychomotor domain (skills) training by providing real-life scenarios and simulations.

Thirdly, the largely outdated curricula in higher education can be revamped with AI.

A seamless industry-academia curriculum or a research-academia curriculum can be put in place using AI. It will rely on big data from the above sectors, chart trends, and using analytics come with a workable, practical and importantly personalised (depending on strengths of institutions and universities) curriculums. Needless to mention, our archaic regulatory bodies need to upgrade themselves to match advances in AI.

AI can also help streamline and bring to track a research culture that is redundant, many a times bogus and does not further any knowledge or cause. Researchers work in areas mostly due to external factors guiding them into it rather than personal interest.

AI can do SWOT analysis of prospective researchers and research labs, match it with grants (thereby even helping grant agencies not indulging in random, motivated and politically influenced allotments) and play an important role in designing research.

Also, AI can be of assistance to teachers.

Technology-based education is set to become a mainstay despite the opposition and resistance from the old school. While the World Economic Forum has predicted that automation will drive 50 lakh people out of jobs by 2020, AI replacing teachers might not be a reality anytime soon.

AI can bring about collaboration like no other. Artificial intelligence systems for higher education would bring together teachers, psychologists, social psychologists, educationists, human computer interaction experts and software professionals among others. The teacher going to the background and acting as a mentor and facilitator is gaining prominence, and AI can only help further it.

A lot of research is on in the field of AI. It is slated to grow exponentially.

Currently in AI, natural language processing with speech recognition technology or in simple words the machine understanding the everyday language and other cutting edge technology like developing a ‘human mind’ that mimics our complex neural system is on.

However, its application in education is in infancy and Big Data, analytics, socio cognitive perspectives, personalisation, theories of learning will be areas, work on which will usher the AI era in education.

Also read: Adobe's cloud computing bubble is clearly unsustainable

Writer

Sambit Dash Sambit Dash @sambit_dash

The writer is a teacher at Manipal University.

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