Realizing personalized instruction for every student to help them succeed.
GUEST COLUMN | by Bill Salak
The pandemic’s devastating impact on K-12 students in the U.S. continues to unfold.
We learned that, in 2022, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) assessed reading and math scores for nine-year-old students to examine how COVID-19 impacted student achievement. The news was worse than educators had imagined; average scores for the group declined five points in reading and seven points in mathematics compared to 2020—the most significant average decline in reading since 1990 and the first-ever score decline in mathematics, NICES reported.
For students already teetering on the education ledge, the effects of the pandemic have been even more severe. This includes students with disabilities and those who live in underserved communities. A recently published Brookings Institute study highlights the impact on Black, Hispanic, and low-income populations. For example, income-based gaps among elementary age children widened by 20% during the pandemic.
‘…income-based gaps among elementary age children widened by 20% during the pandemic.’
Many school districts, educators and even libraries are deploying innovative programs to ensure children can continue to learn, no matter the circumstances. The issue is, however, these programs serve specific regions or school districts. They aren’t reaching the masses.
An AI-enabled Learning App
An AI-enabled learning app can help turn things around by bringing personalized learning to the classroom and promoting a high-quality educational experience for all students – at scale. AI technology, such as an app built on top of ChatGPT, can serve millions of students simultaneously.
Through AI technology, we can bring resources to the classroom that weren’t possible even five years ago. We can ensure that all students have an equal opportunity by providing access to platforms that enable one-on-one tutoring, previously only available to wealthier students. Every student can get the personalized instruction they need to help them succeed.
An Even Greater Need
Students always benefit from individualized instruction—there’s a reason parents in New York City will pay up to $200 an hour for a good tutor—but COVID and economics have fostered an even greater need for personalized learning. Post-pandemic, the educational needs of students are all over the map, and socio-economic situations and access to tutoring and other resources are significant factors in how well they can catch up.
AI-enabled learning apps can also provide homework help tailored to the student’s needs, offering either succinct answers to a question or in-depth explanations. Students can also ask follow-up questions to understand a topic better or for step-by-step solutions. The beauty of such an app is students are in control of which type of answer they receive—a simple or more expanded version—and can engage with the app however it works best for them.
One of the issues with relying on technology to level the educational playing field has always been accessibility to computers and the internet. To a large extent, the ubiquity of smartphones, present in 84% of households and which lower-income families are more likely to use to access the internet, is the magic key enabling AI to contribute to equity in the classroom.
Teachers are juggling the educational needs of 30 students simultaneously and only have a little time to help individual students who don’t get the Pythagorean theorem. AI can handle 30 or even 40 students and scale up or down as needed.
Of course, many school districts offer in-school resources, such as small classroom learning, where children get extra help in reading and math. But whether these resources are available depends on the school district. Schools in underserved communities may not be able to afford to offer this type of resource due to the extra costs. A 2019 study found that nonwhite school districts receive $23 billion less in school funding than their white counterparts.
For More Than Just Students
AI is for more than just students, however. Indeed, the entire school system can benefit from the intelligent application of AI. Since the pandemic, teacher shortages have multiplied, causing even more significant strain for those still in the classroom. In its March 2022 survey of PreK-12 teachers, AdoptAClassroom.org found workloads have increased (81%) while planning time has decreased (55%) due to staff shortages and other factors.
Educators should consider how algorithms can make their jobs easier by scalably assessing student needs to personalize instruction. If, for example, an algorithm can identify the most common concept gaps for students struggling with the material, it can provide bespoke assignments to coach students through this gap. It does not replace the human relationship and emotional intelligence of the teacher, but it does enhance the education experience for everyone involved and multiplies the instructor’s efficacy.
Access and Opportunity
There’s been a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt floating around using AI, with some districts banning its use. But giving students and teachers access to AI can help mitigate an issue that has long plagued the U.S. educational system—the lack of equal access to resources and, by extension, the opportunity to succeed. The conversations around banning ChatGPT are reminiscent of the calculator’s early days on the market. Fears that it would lead to cheating or usurp the educational system didn’t pan out, of course, and it is now a staple in the classroom and at the workplace.
Instead of implementing ChatGPT bans, we should harness its benefits, such as enabling all students to have personalized instruction while teaching our early learners and students how to use it responsibly and effectively. These are the tools they will be using in their job when they get out of college. Job descriptions are already asking for people who know how to use AI.
For the U.S. to continue to be prosperous, we need well-educated, productive members of society coming out of these formal education systems. AI-enabled learning apps can help make that a reality.
Bill Salak has more than 20 years of experience overseeing large-scale development projects and has more than 24 years of experience in web application architecture and development. Bill founded and served as CTO of multiple Internet and web development companies, leading technology projects for companies including Age of Learning, AOL, Educational Testing Systems, Film LA, Hasbro, HBO, Highlights for Children, NBC-Universal, and the U.S. Army. Bill currently serves as the CTO of Brainly, the world’s leading learning platform worldwide with the most extensive Knowledge Base for all school subjects and grades. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn.