Ai in education. Few things have given education a greater shock to the system than Covid. Even over a year after we emerged from the last national lockdown, the impact is still being laid bare.
This month saw crunch time for thousands of students across the country who received their GCSE and A Level results – the first to be based on exams rather than teacher assessed grades in three years.
Perhaps Covid gave us a much needed wake up call in education. Not just in virtual learning, but also in accommodating students with special needs or circumstances.
When I went to school (it wasn’t that long ago!) being absent for a day meant missing all the lessons. As far as academic flexibility was concerned, it was virtually zero. We just about had email communications from teachers, but that was it. There was little to nothing in place to share work virtually, or for absentees to participate in lessons remotely.
The pandemic almost forced these changes, because lockdowns made face to face learning impossible. But the new routines and norms have outlasted the pandemic, many for the better. But how can we make use of our new-founded flexibility to improve learning? Here are a few points:
Recording lessons and lectures
Recording of lectures is already routinely done across many universities, but it’s a tool that could be used in secondary education as well. It’s not just about recording lessons but having them transcribed as well. This not catches up those who weren’t present during the session, but also provides assistance to those who learn differently. Traditional classes naturally favour aural learners, but a majority of us pick things up visually. Transcripts put into words what many of us find hard to digest verbally the first time round.
Students with special educational needs
Thanks to SEND (Special educational needs and disability), thousands of students who would have previously been excluded from the school system now enjoy an experience catered to them. The problem is that measures taken to assist such students, such as use of computers, have long been the exception rather than the norm. This is particularly the case when adaptations would be of benefit to everyone, not just SEND students. An example of this are closed captions, particularly when showing videos or on powerpoint presentations. Not only do they accommodate all pupils, reading as well as hearing a message leads to better retention.
A global outlook
One group of students that goes too often unsupported however, are those with English as a second language. It’s been a particular issue in the wake of Covid, given that many children in their formative years have lost critical time developing language skills. According to the Department of Education, there are approximately 1.6 million EAL students. But although money has been spent on getting children with special needs up to speed post pandemic, nothing has been specifically ring fenced for AEL students – even though they have more than doubled in the last 20 years. If education is to be fully inclusive, a first language mustn’t be a handicap. This surely means more translated resources and lessons, and use of infographics and pictures to support teaching.
This month’s exam results will be food for thought. With regional and ethnic disparities and thousands fewer top grades awarded, it’s clear that even post Covid education still needs a revamp, and that AI and automation is at least part of the way to achieve it. While it’s hard to say whether we’ll all be typing exams in future with anti-cheating software, education, like all parts of life, can still be innovative.