Alef Education uses AI to personalize classroom learning

Digital education platform is used in more than 60 schools

Abu Dhabi-based Alef Education has done away with traditional learning materials and developed a digital education platform.  Inaugurated four years ago, the program is currently used by 25,000 students in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and most recently New York.

Founded in 2015, the platform relies on AI to adapt the curriculum based on each student’s personal needs, with a focus on core subjects such as math, English and science.  Millions of data points are analyzed to find where an individual student is strong and where they need a little more help; lessons are then tailored accordingly.  Feedback is provided in real time to students, parents and teachers.  Alef Education told CNN that they hope their AI-based education platform will be a way to help students eventually choose the right post-secondary education and career options.

Alef hopes AI-based learning will increase the available of quality education

In the face of a world that is rapidly changing thanks to advancements in AI, it’s crucial that students arm themselves to be competitive in the modern job market once they finish school.  In an effort to provide an education that will prepare students for life in the 21st century, the program focuses on fostering an interest in STEM subjects and encouraging students to develop critical thinking skills.  So-called “21st century skills” such as teamwork, problem solving, creativity and critical thinking are the least likely to be replaced by technology.

Teachers who have to juggle the needs of 30 students often find they don’t have enough time to deliver the individualized attention each student needs.  This is particularly true in the case of students with learning disabilities, who may benefit enormously from AI-based alternative learning methods.  And an undeniable advantage of the system is the possibilities it offers for expanding modern education to remote areas or areas that have trouble attracting good teachers.  Alef Education hopes to expand to 300 schools this year and ultimately reach a billion students over the next 10 years.

Concerns with using AI in the classroom

The program is not without its drawbacks, one of which is the increased screen time.  Alef’s platform uses interactive methods like videos and games to stimulate interest in the lessons; the day-to-day classroom life ends up relying a lot on interactive calendars, digital avatars and laptops.  But Geoffrey Alphonso, the CEO of Alef Education, is quick to note that Alef limits the screen time to 3 ½ hours a day.  This is then supplemented by hands-on practical sessions.

Another concern is the privacy issues surrounding the data captured from the students, which is sent to a centralized control room in Abu Dhabi for analysis.  Alphonso claims the system doesn’t capture sensitive information from the students, but the nature of what defines sensitive information is debatable and will undoubtedly present regulatory challenges.

A report released by the European Commission cautioned that algorithms used for AI-based learning may represent engrained cultural biases and outdated measures of success.  Algorithms may also have trouble dealing with unique students who are especially creative, innovative or who otherwise differ from the examples they’ve been trained on.  As AI increasingly infiltrates the classroom, it will be imperative to monitor these AI learning systems in order that they may reflect the best education possible for every student.

AI has great potential in education when combined with teachers

Alef Education is just one of several companies that are working on implementing AI solutions to primary and secondary education.  In fact, the Artificial Intelligence Market in the US Education Sector report estimates that AI in education will grow by 47.5% between 2017-2021.  The challenge will be to find the perfect balance between the human-based creativity that teachers can offer, combined with the advantages of AI technology.