EdTech: Should tech really teach our kids?

August 30, 2017


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The roots of tech and AI are extending deeper into every industry, what should we expect from the way our kids are taught in the future?

The assertions that AI is coming very soon and will be able to do everything humans can currently do should be taken seriously. But they can also be ignored for the moment because we don’t know how soon it will be here. And even if it is here soon, we are technologically far enough from it that it’s not possible to know what form it will take. We can have ideas and ideals, but certainties are few.

Moreover, there is still enough of a gap between now and then that we should focus on what technology should do now and in the short term. If anything, because it will sharpen our thinking for the future when AI rounds on us or our kids, full-force.

I’m old enough to remember being taught on blackboards, whiteboards if we were lucky. And when we came to our first national set of exams at 16 it felt a bit “progressive” to hand in coursework on a floppy disk. But as I was leaving school interactive whiteboards were springing up all over the place and I’m now told, by teachers, that all their classes are delivered via PowerPoint.

There is plenty of talk of being able to teach kids better with machine learning and AI. Mindspark is being used in India and uses the question and answer format to judge the child’s level of understanding and therefore what content to deliver next. This form of teaching, which learns from childrens’ feedback, will continue to develop but realistically, at this moment in time it’s rudimentary.

There are many similar courses, such as ALEKS in the US and Geekie in Brazil. But there seems to be a problem with the focus on software like this. Firstly, I’ve never seen any software which claims to be able to change the style in which it delivers information according to student input or feedback. This strikes me as fairly crucial to teaching. If one can’t do this then to what extent is one a teacher?

Also, sitting in front of a screen all day is dull. I only just about manage to do this now, I’d have been doing backflips if I had been made to do it while I was in school. Kids need human interaction to keep them engaged. So while these are all commendable efforts they should not be hailed as anything near revolutionary. They seem to focus on themselves as an agent and the child as an actor, rather than the other way around.

For now, however, technology can help provide teachers with tools to help create excitement and interest in the fledgling minds comprising their classroom.

Goodwall, for example, allows kids to display their achievements, connect with like-minded contemporaries and gain access to the institutions which lie beyond their exams. Similar to LinkedIn for adults, kids have Goodwall. The platform allows the pupil’s achievements to speak for themselves. And, let’s face it, giving children a formal education in social media is a long overdue task.

But if instead of promoting tools like this, we jump feet first into AI teaching, a potentially dark future awaits. One of the main things that must arise from technology in education is a level playing field. The minute we have top schools using better technology than poor schools, the growth of AI could increase existing levels of disparity. Egalitarian technology, which provides the teachers with better tools and for which the focal point is the achievements of the child, is a far better way forward for education technology.


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