How COVID-19 Is Accelerating Change in Education

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”

-Aristotle

As hundreds of school districts are turning to online classes for the remainder of the school year, millions of students have been introduced to an electronic blackboard and the voice of Sal Khan, founder of KhanAcademy. The educational tool provides videos and interactive tests for everything from kindergarten level math to AP Macroeconomics. Its founder, Sal Khan, has declared that education should be free, for everyone, forever. And now, advances in the internet and artificial intelligence may make that dream a reality.

A New Way

Why do schools work the way they do? For a hypothetical classroom where there are 30 students, 15 may believe the teacher is moving too fast, and 12 others may already understand the topic and are bored. This means that in a modern classroom, perhaps only 10% of students learning optimally. Once we realize this fact, the answer to our original question is clear: efficiency. Our current education system is optimized to get every child in the country the bare minimum of skills needed to be productive in the workforce. That’s why our schools focus more resources on the bottom 10% than the top 20%. That’s why students prepare to take dozens of different standardized tests every year. For the industrial age, this motto of “the needs of the many outweigh the few” worked well. But now, in the information age, we face the consequences of an outdated educational system.

Education doesn’t have to be this way, however. The earliest scholars were not taught in large groups, but were tutored in a one-on-one environment. Tutors learned a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and interests and built their “curriculum” based on that. This is what we as a society should aim for: personalized 1:1 tutors for all. So why don’t we all change right now? Give every child a tutor, and reap the rewards. There are 4 problems with this approach:

Problems with 1:1 Human Education

  1. People hate change.
  2. There’s not nearly enough teachers.
  3. Even if we had enough teachers, we can’t give resources to all of them.
  4. Even if we had enough well-resourced teachers, not everyone is a perfect teacher.

We can solve all but one of these problems with the greatest tool given to humanity: Artificial Intelligence.

The Perfect Teacher

AI can become the perfect tutor by searching the internet for the best videos about a topic and matching them with students from around the globe, generating quizzes to test for understanding, and continually personalizing its curriculum to each student. When such an AI is developed, which will no doubt happen soon, teachers won’t be directly teaching 30 kids. Instead, they’ll be supervising AI teaching 100 kids. Thus, issues two, three, and four are solved. But how about the first?

COVID-19 And Change

So, with AI, the problems with 1:1 education become the following:

Problems with 1:1 Education

  1. People hate change.

But now, public opinion is shifting. Teachers and students alike are realizing that the greatest library of knowledge is the internet. Teachers are finding that to teach in these strange times is to play the role of the AI: find videos, generate tests, and answer questions when needed. At the same time, powerful algorithms employed by companies like KhanAcademy are gathering and processing terabytes of data, becoming slightly better at “teaching” every day. And every day, a radical advancement in education becomes slightly closer.

Parv Mahajan is a student who does fun stuff sometimes. Contact him on Twitter or on Linkedin.

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A student who does fun things every once in a while.

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Parv M.

Parv M.

A student who does fun things every once in a while.

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