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Monday, 7 June 2021

Education automation and the use of advanced AI in Egypt's international schools

Education automation and the use of advanced AI in Egypt's international schools: The use of adaptive learning software — offering automated learner feedback and basic follow-up tasks based on performance — has been steadily growing in Egypt’s international schools, and is probably used in some form by all of them, sources estimate.

Now, more advanced AI software has also emerged in Egypt: Century Tech, an advanced machine learning platform that builds personalized learning paths for learners, was first used in Egypt in 2019. Now, it works with three Cairo schools: Cairo English School (CES), the British International School of Cairo (BISC) and Kipling School, Century’s Head of International Charles Wood tells Enterprise. Century uses the British curriculum, but has recently partnered with AIS to design software following the American curriculum. It combines learning science, AI and neuroscience to develop individualized learning pathways for students, constantly adjusting based on learner input, Wood adds.

It goes beyond adaptive learning to actually learn from information given by the learner, experts say. Adaptive technologies are often conflated with artificially intelligent software, but that’s reductive, says Wood. Adaptive technology is like Netflix, where an algorithm makes recommendations based on how one user’s habits link to other user engagement. “Even if the algorithm itself is relatively complex, if it only operates based on its coding and design — rather than on live data it’s constantly collecting — it isn’t artificially intelligent,” he says. Adaptive software is an adaptation, agrees AIS Director Kapono Ciotti. “It isn’t really learning from you and with you.”

So how does it work in practice? Century Tech identifies initial gaps in learner knowledge through a diagnostic assessment. Learners are directed to “nuggets,” bitesize lessons in English, math or science comprising videos and slideshows, followed by questions. When they complete a nugget, their recommended pathway automatically updates, based on what the software has “learned” from the new information provided. It assesses learner confidence levels, strengths, areas for improvement, focus, engagement and memory recall, says Wood. It links subject areas — like math with physics — to help clarify concepts. And it uses AI to look for big data patterns and correlations to identify learning trends.

The goals? Precise learner assessment, agile and accurate recommendations: All Century Tech courses are broken down into the most granular iterations possible, to assess skills and knowledge very precisely, says Wood. The software determines when a student needs subject-matter knowledge, a different kind of learning — like visual or auditory — or simply more practice, says Ciotti. A child could be struggling with a physics topic like velocity because she has difficulty applying math equations, not because she doesn’t understand velocity or kinetic energy, notes Wood. Once the software understands this, it can make the relevant math recommendation for her, to address the problem.

Teachers can access greater amounts of more precise data: Century Tech provides more detailed feedback than adaptive learning software, says CES Head of Secondary Andrew Lennie. “Adaptive learning programs show student assessment scores, but Century Tech is more intelligent, identifying key areas that students have fallen behind in.” Teachers can see individual student challenges, and look at the big-picture data to see when whole classes are struggling with particular concepts, agrees Toya Are, CES Deputy Head of Key Stage 2.

Advanced AI software could even rival teachers in helping students remember and understand information. Advanced AI can actually accelerate aspects of learning — particularly when it comes to remembering and understanding information — potentially halving the time needed for this kind of teaching, says Ciotti. It could sometimes even do this better than a single teacher in a class full of students, because it’s so personalized. “This could free the teacher up to focus on things like knowledge application and project-based work.”

Century appears to be the only advanced AI education software used in Egypt: Century Tech features in multiple lists of the top global edtech companies using AI in education. Of these companies, it’s the only one being used in Egypt, several sources believe. “In terms of intelligent software, Century Tech is the only platform I know of in Egypt,” says Lennie.

Adoption may be limited, as it offers only three academic subject areas: Century Tech is currently being used for CES pupils at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 level, Esol Education’s Assistant COO Hazem Girgis tells Enterprise. “We don’t use Century for our GCSE students because it only offers English, math and science, while edtech platform GCSEPod covers nearly all subjects,” says Lennie.

Still, it’s on a rapid growth trajectory in Egypt and regionally: Century Tech’s usage in Egypt has seen a 50% y-o-y increase in terms of lessons completed this academic year, says Wood. It has a significant regional presence, working in some 40-50 schools in the UAE. Altogether, it’s active in some 40 countries, he adds. “In Egypt, we’re actively targeting international schools, but we’re also very interested in working with the education ministry and making our tech available to the public sector.” Overall, the company wants to branch out into a broader range of subject areas, he says.

Its AIS content-creation partnership is a move to diversify its offerings: AIS has a team of four people working with Century Tech to design American curriculum math content. So far, it’s completed a mapping exercise to identify learning gaps for one grade level, says Wood. “With our current time and budget, we could probably design one grade level in five months, but I think this will accelerate,” says Ciotti. “Eventually, I’d expect it to take three months per grade level per subject area.” AIS is currently the only partner Century’s working on American curriculum design with, says Wood. “With further investment, we could roll this out and move into other subject areas,” he adds.

For AIS, it’s a worthwhile investment in cutting-edge tech: Ciotti hopes that the partnership will continue into other subject areas. “I think both sides are investing quite a bit and taking some bold risks here,” he says, without disclosing any investment figures. “The vast majority of the investment is in person hours and expertise,” he adds. It’s all worth it, because AIS believes in the value of the tech. “We’re confident this is the tech of today and many of our tomorrows, and that it will continue to adapt.”

Your top education stories for the week:

  • Thanaweya Amma details announced: This year’s Thanaweya Amma exams will be held between 10 July and 2 August. Students who have received tablets will be required to record their answers digitally and on paper in case of any technical malfunctions, and students without tablets will receive paper exams only.
  • New vocational schools in Upper Egypt: Unionaire Group Technology (UGT) plans to establish two vocational schools, one each in Sohag and Luxor.
  • Unis donate to Gaza: Some of Egypt’s private universities have donated a combined EGP 50 mn to the government’s USD 500 mn initiative to reconstruct properties and infrastructure in Gaza.

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