The feasibility and wisdom of bringing artificial intelligence into classrooms will soon be put to the test on a large scale–in Belgium.
Seven hundred schools that are part of the Flemish, government-run school system in the northern European nation have reached an agreement to implement an AI learning platform developed by Century Tech, a British company.
The artificial intelligence engine will be woven within a new learning platform called IXZO!, which will integrate the AI learning platform into a localized interface for Flemish students.
The arrangement will apply to all regionally funded schools in Flanders–a Dutch-speaking region in northern Belgium. More than 200,000 students will have access to the platform, according to a statement from Century Tech.
A representative of GO!, a government organization that oversees education for the Flemish community, predicted that the partnership will bring breakthrough innovations to the region’s schools.
The government sees Century Tech as a “strong partner in AI, neuroscience, and data science,” said Raymonda Verdyck, the managing director of GO!, in a statement.
The school system’s effort is about “enabling every learner to follow education at their own pace and, at the same time, [reducing] our teachers’ administrative burden.”
A spokesman for Century Tech, Alex Blackburn, said the London-based company is already using forms of its AI technology in hundreds of schools around the world in Britain, the United States, and the Middle East.
But the project in Belgium is far more ambitious in its scale. Century Tech calls it the “first ever state-level rollout of artificial intelligence in schools.”
The first schools in Belgium will begin using the program in September of this year, building to a wider deployment around 2024, Century Tech said.
Century Tech says its platform tracks all of students’ interactions with it for correlations and patterns in their behavior and performance. The goal is to build a customized academic path for the student.
The platform measures gaps in students’ knowledge, the pace of their learning, their habits and preferences–even, the company says, when information goes from their short-term to long-term memory. Students are constantly being assessed on a variety of questions, and natural-language processing provides corrective feedback. The resulting data is provided to both parents and teachers so they can intervene and help students make gains.
Beyond Adaptive Learning?
In a written explanation of Century Tech’s platform, company founder Priya Lakhani said the technology moves beyond “rules-based adaptive learning,” in which developers explicitly tell students what paths are available to them, based on previous work.
“We can think of rules-based adaptivity like the standard clothes sizing: some parts of it will fit well, other areas not so much, and you probably have to compromise on fit in one area to get a good fit in another,” said Lakhani.
“It was good when it was all we had, but it’s not good enough anymore. AI can provide the equivalent of made-to-measure: genuine, full adaptivity and personalization for a student.”
Lakhani’s piece was co-written by Rose Luckin, a professor at University College London and the co-founder of EDUCATE, an ed-tech research body that is providing research support to Century Tech.
The use of artificial intelligence in schools is still in early stages. But the technology’s power has raised concerns on several fronts, including questions about data privacy and whether it could lead to artificial systems replacing or undermining traditional, teacher-led instruction.
Additionally, there’s a concern about some who study the economy and the labor force that schools aren’t doing enough to prepare students for a workforce that could be upended by AI and other forms of automation.
Century Tech predicts its AI platform will free up teachers’ time by automating administrative tasks such as grading and planning. The company argues that its technology will save teachers an average of six hours per week of time.
It will also give them tools and data necessary to intervene with students who are falling behind.
“It lets them get on with actually teaching,” Blackburn said in an e-mail.
The company’s data-privacy procedures, and its systems and storage are robust, he said. No personal information–only fully anonymous data–is ever exposed to the AI portion of the technology, Blackburn said.
In addition, the personal information is stored in a separate database used to produce dashboards and reports for schools. Access is restricted to the company, he said.
Independent of the rollout in Belgium, Century Tech is taking other steps to get the word out about its AI platform’s uses in schools.
This week it announced the launch of a “flagship schools” program designed to showcase how AI is being used in a group of British schools. The company says other schools can learn “how AI can be deployed in the classroom to improve outcomes and reduce teacher workload.”