Advice Column, Education, Lifestyle, Recently

“Disruptive” AI and robotics skills should be incorporated into schools for children to thrive in the digital age

  • Mindjoy
  • Category Advice Column, Education, Lifestyle, Recently

With companies placing increasing importance on artificial intelligence (AI) and big data skills, schools should be incorporating subjects like AI and robotics to help pupils master them early on, says EdTech startup and e-learning platform, Mindjoy.

The full-scale implementation of the Department of Basic Education’s robotics and coding curriculum was earmarked for completion in 2024 and 2025. However, the programme, piloted in 2021, experienced early delays as a result of the Covid pandemic.

Gabi Immelman, Founder and CEO of Mindjoy, says that the DBE’s initiative appears to be on track, although the uptake in South Africa still lags compared to schools in the US, for example.

“Currently, AI and robotics are not extensively integrated into the education curriculum. However, we are encouraged by the growing recognition of its importance in fostering STEM skills and preparing students for the future workforce.”

The World Economic Forum notes in its Future of Jobs report that the fastest growing roles are technology related, with AI and machine learning specialists topping the list.

Companies have also identified AI and big data as key in their skills strategies, with over 40% of organisations in the automotive and aerospace, financial services and IT and digital communications sectors respectively, ranking them as core skills for their workers.

“Schools need to give students the skills to engage with these tools, use them effectively, understand their limitations and gain mastery over technologies that will be as ubiquitous to future careers as spell check is to us,” says Immelman.

Supercharging learning through the power of AI

AI plays a pivotal role in the schooling system for both educators and students, irrespective of curriculum choices.

Immelman says that the adoption of AI within the South African schooling system, as well as more broadly, might still be in its infancy, but represents a growing field of interest.

AI offers educators the tools to enhance teaching effectiveness and efficiency. The growth and uptake of technologies such as ChatGPT, for example, can’t be ignored. But this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how these technologies can empower educators with personalised learning experiences, or even streamline administrative tasks.

“Teachers can use AI to make a profound difference in education by harnessing the capabilities of knowledgeable bots that can converse and rapidly adapt to the changing needs of the student or teacher. It’s not about sitting students in front of ChatGPT, but rather using AI tools that are designed to be pedagogically sound and transparent in their interactions with students,” she adds.

Immelman explains that cloud-based AI tutors, for example, can enhance teaching effectiveness, foster student engagement and, ultimately, improve educational outcomes. “AI is a friend that gives educators and students innovative tools and resources to enhance the learning experience.”

She cautions, however, that AI cannot fully run the learning process. The intrinsic motivation of students isn’t limitless; it needs directing, encouraging and cultivating.

10x the power of one

AI is entering and facilitating education in various ways. It can provide opportunities for personalised learning support and feedback, as well as create avenues to unlock creativity in teaching and learning.

AI tutors also have the potential to help solve staffing and teacher shortages, particularly in under-resourced schools where teachers are in short supply.

“Many education departments are making drastic budget cuts. Access to AI tutors can mitigate learning loss, providing support when substitute teachers are not available due to cost constraints,” Immelman says.

She adds that AI not only drives in-class facilitation but can also spotlight the professional development of educators, even in the most remote areas. Using AI-driven training sessions, for instance, educators can learn alongside the world’s best teachers. They can learn how to apply the best practices and learning sciences in their own classrooms to ensure quality learning experiences for every student.

Education needs are, however, constantly evolving. “Right now, the focus is on empowering educators with accessible AI tools and resources. Looking ahead, we need to leverage emerging AI trends to ensure that educators and students are equipped to thrive in the digital age,” Immelman concludes.

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