The Electric Laoshi

By Stu Lancaster 2019-08-22 16:09:35

Automation, Education and the Future Chinese Classroom The Electric Lao Shi Test How our Future Learning will be Altered by A.I.

Artificial Intelligence, automation and robotics seem destined to affect our lives in overlapping ways. What will this mean for the classroom? We consulted A.I. expert Biman Liyanage and futurologist Jamie Beaton to explain how they foresee the future development of education, with a focus on China.


It is easy to predict that education will soon be transformed. For even the staunchest traditionalists, it is impossible to keep technology fully at bay. As digital tools become unavoidable elements of daily life, the meaning of ‘valuable knowledge’ continues to change. Educators around the world have long debated how to usefully integrate technology into the learning process. This discussion continues to gather pace.


Jamie Beaton, 23, co-founded Crimson education in 2013 in New Zealand, with the aim of a personalised mentoring and education company. Jamie an alumnus of Harvard University, was also one of the youngest in the world to be accepted to Stanford's Graduate School of Business. Futurists like Jamie estimate that the cognitive and creativity capacity of human beings will be at the centre of education in coming years, in part due to the influence of A.I. and automation in world job markets. The advent of digital solutions for the most repetitive tasks means that children who can convert knowledge and learning processes into creativity will be the most successful. ‘Creativity’ here actually includes technological skills, such as the original and dynamic code writing that will allow future digital ‘unicorns’ to be created by young entrepreneurs. Therefore, providing preschool children, aged 5 and 6, with a better education in areas that will set them apart is set to be one of the biggest future investments for China –just like the rest of the world. Schools and institutions that provide coding literacy, especially STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) schools, mention that parents and their children are competing to receive this education.


Sri Lankan native Biman Najike Liyanage is a technology entrepreneur working in A.I. or A.A.I. (Affective Artificial Intelligence), and already achieving fame through connecting the tools of these sciences to the classroom. The purpose of his work is to assess learning outcomes, leading to personalised learning solutions and adaptive learning. Research worked on by Biman recently has included analysis of students’ mental health, using non-invasive measurement technologies. “Essentially,” says Biman,  “if you can understand the student’s state of mind, then you can then define matrices that help to assess the student’s ability to focus.”


Liyanage sees the future of education as having more individual-oriented teaching and learning approaches, and then technology, including A.I., will play a key role in this. This will mean a significant change to traditional teaching environments. The skills children need to learn to be ready for the future will be drastically different from what we learned when we were children. However, the key is finding individual ways to inspire them.


“The most important thing is not to get lost in A.I. terms and analytics – but to focus on creating new ways to encourage children.  It is essential to teach them the potential of technology and its infinite possibilities. The future for me looks bright, as I am interested in technology for children on a global scale, from Kenya to China. We plan to have equal access to education that may have previously been inaccessible.”


Jamie Beaton also feels that  A.I. can lead to data-based conclusions that guide a child’s future education and choices. For example, Crimson’s ‘College Admissions Calculator’ uses a sophisticated algorithm that analyses a student’s SAT score, extracurricular activities, and GPA –among other factors – to provide them with a list of colleges they should consider applying to. Coupled with a Strategy Team, Crimson then provides students with advice and guidance about how to increase their chances of getting accepted.

Other devices for younger learners include language apps which teach children at a pace that accelerates their learning, based on their ability. For example, if a child’s responses to language questions are entered into an app quickly and with high accuracy, the curriculum will adapt in real time and continue to challenge the student at just the right level so they are progressing without feeling overwhelmed, anxious or bored.


Embracing Technology


Should we as parents be fearful about the changes, when they seem certain to make a learning experience so different to what we knew when we were at school? Liyanage advises that we take some time to “study more about these topics in depth.  It’s the future of your children, and the world is changing whether you like it or not.  It’s good to ride the wagon and gain control of the horses. Technology can never replace a teacher, although it can most definitely replace a teaching assistant.” Automation and A.I. can replace the menial tasks that a teacher previously did, like taking the register, and furthermore can offer in-depth assessments to supplement lessons. They can see if a student is not engaging, and can use adaptive tech to explore new strategies to engage with that particular learner.


Typically, teachers spend their energy on students who are at risk of falling behind and often miss an opportunity to test a child who has quickly grasped a concept. Similarly, children who are performing at an average level risk not being recognised as having the ability to accelerate or receive support if they are failing to grasp certain concepts. A.I.-powered technology helps teachers read a child’s expression, understand the time they take to answer a question and the accuracy in which they complete tasks. Then, in real time, course work can be modified based on the student’s individual ability.

Further future applications for parents may include being able to track how their child is progressing in real time. Ultimately, technology can break down barriers that can be extremely limiting to your children’s success, such as age and location.


When should we introduce digital literacy?


Coding is the best way to teach kids logic and a structured way of thinking. It helps them understand problem-solving. There is no age limit; my nephew is learning to code, and he is just four years old.


Coding can be introduced for kids in a variety of formats.  Starting from Logic analysis and coding card games, kids can move on to early exposure to if else statements, loops and variables. Following this, work on programming visual languages like Scratch and Scratch-based robotics, where students can build simple robots that they can play with, is  another possible stage.


One interesting aspect of this approach is that you can let kids have an early exposure for troubleshooting and coding without their needing to know much of electronics and electrical engineering. Once students move from programming they can use Arduino based programming toolkits to build much more complex robots and platforms. There are many supporting websites, like Code School  and Code Academy, where tutorials, interactive tasks and games all help build interest.


What comes next?


China and the West’s leading economies have been successfully embracing technology in the classroom in different ways, and other important hubs have been catching up; elsewhere in Asia, a ‘Cloud school initiative’ has been launched successfully in Sri Lanka. Expat families are bound to find that ‘Blended Learning’ will become more common, whereby classroom experience is supplemented by layers of personalised, technology-enabled work. This type of learning may include one-to-one, guided online study with tutors and mentors around the world – the model followed by Crimson – or interaction with free per-made content (the model pursued by the groundbreaking Khan Academy, for instance).


Through these changes, students will become digitally literate global citizens and will enter into a competitive pool of learners and skilled graduates – ready to face the future, and shape it at once.