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AI can transform school education, minimise drudgery to improve quality

Virtual assistants can slash the load for teachers; systems like Chat GPT can provide students personalised inputs

school education, school

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A Damodaran
In recent months, the potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on education has been a matter of intense discussion, in particular, how generative AI (which generates new content) could change teaching and learning practices. Already, there is widespread concern that AI technology will lead to plagiarism by students.

There is no doubt that as AI makes deeper inroads into education systems, it will fundamentally change the current models of teaching and learning as the process moves into a case study approach that deploys practical projects. Here, a teacher need not spend time repeating or revising basic concepts and instead utilises classroom sessions to address queries related to student projects.

On the learning side, as students focus on real-world concepts, the exams they sit will be created around the application of those fundamentals rather than on traditional or routine testing of knowledge and facts. In practice, that could also render plagiarism redundant.

Most advanced educational institutions in India see the importance of framing institution-wide AI policies to manage its rapid transformation. This is not always the case with broader school education in India, which is entrenched with traditional systems of teaching and evaluation.

In part, schoolteachers are disinclined to move away from the blackboard and chalk (B&C) teaching style in favour of digital tools because of their low digital skills. They are also reluctant because of their inherent belief that B&C method enables greater classroom-learner retention. There is merit in this school of thought, but virtual ones or ‘white boards’ also demonstrate similar results equally well.

Also Read: Need local AI models to improve Indian education system: Flipick Founder

More importantly, the ongoing transition to digital technologies and AI tools has also been bumpy for India’s schools due to low internet penetration and connectivity. The national average of smart classrooms (that house white boards and AI tools) in government and government aided schools is low, with only 1 smart classroom for 758 secondary students, according to estimates.

While the pandemic abruptly accelerated the tempo in online learning, teaching systems have also gone the digital way both in private schools as well as the Navodaya and government-supported Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) schools. In the post-pandemic phase, online education is being utilised in blended form, which enables classroom learning with online learning. As high quality internet reaches disadvantaged areas, expect a rise in online learning in these school districts as well.

One positive impact of deeper internet coverage in rural areas could be a big push for the DIKSHA and Swayam platforms. This coupled with the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) could provide conditions for AI-enabled chatbots and LLMs (large language models) to make a major entry in Indian schools.

According to the IPCIDE Status of India’s Digital Economy Report 2023, among OECD countries, the chances of finding workers with AI skills is greater in India than in any other OECD country, and the trend is likely to accelerate.

NEP 2020 seeks to ramp up digital classroom infrastructure by increasing the number of smart classrooms equipped with AI systems that could both assess learning as well as work on cross-country and cross-linguistic learning can be another important outcome, thanks to Natural Language Processing (NPL). This would top the efforts of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to introduce AI as a subject in secondary schools.

AI can be transformative for school education in India in multiple ways. First, by slashing the long man hours put in by schoolteachers, who in India on average teach on all working days, logging in a minimum of five hours in classrooms every day. That is before they turn to administrative responsibilities. AI can minimise much of this drudgery.

Also, AI could possibly accelerate the quality of performance by students and teachers. Teachers could spend after class hours more productively by focusing on new developments in their field and incorporating them in teaching. AI-enabled systems and virtual assistants can reduce time planning day to day teaching, improve organisation of course materials and allow for quicker delivery of feedback on assignments and exams. The time saved could enable teachers to concentrate on improving their teaching with updated content. Additionally, AI-powered virtual assistants can slash the load for teachers; Generative AI tools can serve as tutorials in classrooms. More importantly, students can potentially access personalised inputs through systems like Chat GPT.

All of this means that the AI push provided by the NEP can be transformational. Those include a major ramp up in the quality of teaching in schools and the acceleration of multilingual learning in secondary and higher secondary schools via NLP or Natural Language Processing.

Also Read: ChatGPT-powered AI Professor joins Amity University for online education

At a more fundamental level, AI-based systems will enhance India’s edge in the overall technology space, and that advantage can be sustained and harvested better, if the process is fuelled by education and starts at schools.

The writer is distinguished professor, ICRIER-Prosus Centre for Internet and Digital Economics (IPCIDE); he was earlier senior faculty at IIM Bangalore.
Disclaimer: These are personal views of the writer. They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of or the Business Standard newspaper

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First Published: Sep 20 2023 | 2:50 PM IST

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