Never Too Young To Learn: UNESCO Study Makes Pitch For AI In Indian Schools – As A Subject And As Teaching Tool

Anand Parthasarathy

Nov 02, 2022, 06:18 PM | Updated Nov 03, 2022, 10:45 AM IST

Students of Hebbagodi Government School, Bengaluru, use an AI-powered learning tool. (PC: UNESCO:2022 State of Education Report-India)
Students of Hebbagodi Government School, Bengaluru, use an AI-powered learning tool. (PC: UNESCO:2022 State of Education Report-India)
  • Artificial Intelligence can revolutionise education system in India, suggests State of Education report.
  • Technology is fine, but don’t forget ethical and human factors, it cautions.
  • School extensions of Atal Innovation Mission lauded.
  • The educational sector in India faces many challenges, including resources, infrastructure socio-economic inequities, gender dimensions, linguistic barriers and the digital divide.

    But these challenges can be addressed by Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered tools, according to a recent study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

    The study was referenced in the latest (25 October) issue of The Heuristic, the weekly newsletter of INDIAai, the joint initiative of the Ministry of  Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), the National e-Governance Division and NASSCOM to evangelise AI.

    The UNESCO report “2022 State of the Education Report (SOER) for India: Artificial Intelligence in Education – Here, There and Everywhere”, suggests that implementation of AI in education systems can revolutionise the teaching-learning process.

    The Heuristic summarises the report’s key suggestions centred around three technologies:

    • Machine Learning can be used for formal learning and teaching; school management; mapping and matching of skills

    • Natural Language Processing can be used for formal and informal earning 

    • Computer Vision can be used for teaching, evaluation

    The AI market in India is expected to reach $7.8 billion by 2025 and according to a NASSCOM study it may add $450-500 billion to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

    AI literacy is becoming highly relevant in India since the AI market is the primary growth driver of the broader information technology (IT) and data science industry, suggests the UNESCO study.

    The study goes on to say: “As early as 2018, the public policy think tank of the Government of India, NITI Aayog acknowledged the importance of AI literacy, in India and saw it as a national priority. This recognition is also reflected in the National Education Policy of 2020, which emphasises the integration of AI in education.”

    “AI literacy consists of a technological and a human dimension; the technological dimension is concerned with data and algorithm literacy, while the human dimension comprises building awareness about the limitations and risks of AI and debating the various aspects of AI ethics”, the report says.

    But it cautions: “The latter dimension is often neglected, although it is relevant to all individuals who manage or work with AI, which is likely to be everyone in the future.

    Cover of UNESCO 2022 State of Education Report - India
    Cover of UNESCO 2022 State of Education Report - India
    Students of Modern Public School Delhi get hands-on experience of Robotics. PC:  UNESCO 2022 State of Education Report - India
    Students of Modern Public School Delhi get hands-on experience of Robotics. PC: UNESCO 2022 State of Education Report - India

    Highest AI skill penetration

    Compared to other countries, India is well advanced in terms of AI literacy, illustrated, by the fact that India has the highest relative AI skill penetration rate worldwide ,3.09 times the global average compared to US 2.24 and China 1.56 (Artificial Intelligence Index Report; Zhang et al., 2022). 

    The report states “Women and girls as well as other disadvantaged socio-economic groups have fewer opportunities to become AI literate in India.”

    However, this flies in the face of data in other parts of the report that shows that “AI skills among women (in India) are highest in the world, 3.16 times the global average compared to US: 1.77 (as reported by LinkedIn).

    Intelligent Tutoring

    A long-standing flaw of today’s education system is that it applies a one-size-fits-all approach, suggests the study, while suggesting a remedy: An intelligent tutoring system addresses this issue by tracking the learning outcomes and assessing the competencies of individual students in real time.

    Intelligent tutoring systems could prevail in India if the necessary opportunities are harnessed and the existing challenges are addressed. This could lead to a positive disruption of the Indian education system.

    It also makes an important distinction between AI literacy and AI-powered educational technology. AI literacy denotes Artificial Intelligence as a subject in the curriculum. Educational technology refers to the application of technologies supported by AI tools, to facilitate and improve learning.

    Atal Tinkering Labs

    Both these strands converge in some government initiatives: The report points to the success of the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) initiated in 2016 by the Government of India to create a space for innovation and an entrepreneurial ecosystem among the young.

    AIM established Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs) across some 15,000 Kendriya Vidyalayas, Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas and private schools in India, creating workspaces where young minds can innovate, get hands-on experience in a flexible environment, to promote AI literacy.

    The ATLs have a curriculum that includes physical computing, an Internet of Things module, a space module, a drone module, Artificial Intelligence etc.

    In summary, the UNESCO report aligns itself with the national vision of Digital India, to offer ten recommendations to “catalyse India’s transformational journey through technological education and advanced tech-driven solutions in the educational processes”. 

    • Consider the ethics of Artificial Intelligence in Education as an utmost priority

    • Rapidly provide an overall regulatory framework for Artificial Intelligence in Education

    • Create effective public-private partnerships

    • Ensure that all students and teachers have access to the latest technology

    • Expand AI literacy efforts

    • Attempt to correct algorithmic biases and the resulting discrimination

    • Improve public trust in Artificial Intelligence

    • Request the private sector to better involve students and educationists in developing AI products

    • Place ownership of data with the students

    • Embrace the versatility of Artificial Intelligence in Education systems

    Says Dr Rajendra Kumar, Additional Secretary, MEITY: “We believe that this report is timely, as it can contribute towards transforming India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy and make Digital India, a reality.”

    Read the full UNESCO 2022 State of Education (India) report here.

    For an attractive 20-page introduction to AI, by INDIAai, pitched at children, read AI for Everyonehere.

    This article is part-I in a two-part report on Educational technology. 

    Also Read: Kerala School Kids’ Project For Safely Dropping Delicate Payloads From Drone, Garners Two US Patents

    Anand Parthasarathy is managing director at Online India Tech Pvt Ltd and a veteran IT journalist who has written about the Indian technology landscape for more than 15 years for The Hindu.

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