The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are a global agenda adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015. Consisting of 17 goals and 169 targets to be achieved by 2030, they are a universal call to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. This is the 4th article of a series of 17 and here we are going to address SDG goal nº 4 and how the arrival of new tools and AI algorithms can help promote quality education and make the experience of learning deeper, more relevant and available for all.
“So let us wage, so let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” — Malala Yousafzai 2013
Education is a fundamental human right and an incredibly powerful force. It is a crucial element in the achievement of many other SDGs as well. When quality education is available, it has the power to break people from the cycle of poverty and reduce inequalities. It also empowers individuals everywhere to live healthier and sustainable lives. When girls have access to quality education, they take many steps forward towards gender equality. Education is also fundamental for a sustainable development, to raise tolerance between people and contribute to more peaceful and egalitarian societies.
Promoting the empowerment of individuals is at the heart of SDG4. Aiming to broaden opportunities for the most vulnerable people on the road to development, all levels of education are embraced, in addition to focus on the basic one. This goal lies in human rights and sustainable development principles for an inclusive and egalitarian education. One of its targets is to ensure that all children complete free primary and secondary schooling by 2030. Another is to provide access to affordable vocational training to eliminate gender and wealth disparities and to achieve universal access to quality higher education.
Since the year 2000, a tremendous progress was made in promoting universal access to primary education for children around the world. Enrollment in primary education in developing countries has reached 91%, but still millions of children persist out of school. The world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, but a small number of countries have achieved this in all levels of education. Among teenagers and young adults (15 to 24 years old), literacy rates improved overall, from 83% to 91% between 1990 and 2015. (UN)
Notwithstanding, globally there are still 58 million children currently out-of-school among the ages of 6 and 11. In 2012, 63 million teenagers were out of school according to UNICEF’s report. It is estimated that 50% of all of those children and adolescents live in areas affected by conflict. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the largest number of out-of-school kids in the world. With a very young population, more than half of those who did not enroll in school live there. By 2030, this region will have to provide basic education to 444 million children between ages of 3 and 15. A number that corresponds to 2.6 times the number of kids enrolled today.
Education matters, this is a consensus that characterizes the hopes, dreams and aspirations of all kinds of people and governments around the world. Artificial Intelligence finds here great potential to reinforce education systems and knowledge dissemination. To exponentially expand access to information and provide basic to advanced quality and effective learning. AI can play a vital role to democratize education and ensure a more effective service provision. In Sub-Saharan Africa, AI technologies can be applied to radically increase access to knowledge while offering unprecedented opportunities to reduce poverty and inequality.
Free, equitable and quality education
The first target of SGD 4 is to ensure that by 2030 all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes. Willing to reach that target, YaNetu is designed to address the critical conditions of education in the developing world and promises to reach kids in remote areas and war zones. Being built at iCog Lab in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in collaboration with Dr. Ben Goertzel, the application comes with a standard curriculum and AI-boosted avatar teachers that besides information and coaching, also offer emotional and motivational feedback. The tablet comes with a built-in curriculum, customized with local languages with both online and offline applications.
Speaking of which, SingularityNet, a decentralized marketplace for AI, recently announced a partnership with UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education (IBE) to help prepare youth for the future. The partnership will work towards the development of new forms of curriculum covering the years from kindergarten to 12th grade aiming to teach children about new technologies that will shape future decades. According to Dr. Ben Goertzel who is also the CEO and Chief Scientist of SingularityNet: “ Digital Literacy — the ability to use one’s technical, cognitive, social, civic and creative skills to interact with digital tools — will empower us all.”
Smart machines are playing an important role in delivering personalized and relevant knowledge to students, where and when needed. In the 4th industrial revolution era it is also important to keep students motivated, eager to continue to learn. In this aspect, AI is a great ally to replace repetitive tasks and increase the human capacity for learning. This is exactly the idea behind Immersive VR education, a virtual/augmented reality software promising to turn learning into a hobby. The company is enthusiastic to provide educators and corporate trainers the tools they need to create their own content using virtual classrooms or virtual training environments.
Access and inclusion are the first multiplier benefits of AI technologies, which is powerful enough to make classrooms global and accessible to all including those who speak different languages or who might have visual or hearing deficiencies. A good example is Presentation Translator, a free plug-in for PowerPoint that generates subtitles in real time for what the teacher is saying. This also opens up opportunities for students who might not be able to attend school due to illness or who necessitate learning at a different level or on a specific subject that is not available in their own school or community.
Do the Math
Ensuring basic knowledge in mathematics to all youth results in a substantial proportion of adults is also a target of SGD4. Although artificial intelligence technologies are not a solutions in themselves, they thrive in helping grow children’s horizons by increasing access to higher quality education, endorsing their learning. This aspect is worth mentioning the project Third Space Learning, in partnership with University College London, that attempts to improve math learning via tailor-made virtual tutoring for each child based on the analysis of thousands of hours of previous lessons.
In Sudan, the Can’t Wait to Learn initiative uses solar-powered tablets and interactive, self-paced software to help out-of-school children access the official Sudanese primary-level mathematics curriculum. The kids uses the device in community places that are operated by qualified facilitators. Students are not the only beneficiaries. Intelligent tutoring systems, such as Carnegie Learning and Content Technologies also help teachers break free from the “one size fits all” approach. These individual mentoring platforms use the big data and learning analysis tools to provide tutors with real-time feedback on students’ performance, strengths, and weaknesses.
Evaluative feedback helps teachers determine their exact learning needs, the flaws in each student’s abilities, and provide supplemental guidance. In India, Mindspark, has created a database over ten years, from millions of educational assessments, to help teachers accurately identify efficiently what the students’ needs are. The program, a computer-based, online self-learning is also helping children improve their Math skills allowing them to follow a learning path that is based on their own needs.
For girls and boys
In a scenario where 31 million of those 58 million primary school-age children out of school are girls, it is imperative to talk about gender equality. About one-third of countries in the developing regions have not accomplished gender equality in primary education. In sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and Western Asia, girls still face obstacles to enroll both primary and secondary school. These disadvantages are also converted into lack of access to skills and restricted opportunities in the labor market for young women. Ensuring that girls have equitable access to high quality education is also a goal for Girls Computing League.
To bring modern technology education to classrooms filled of young women and students in the socioeconomic and racial minority, the Girls Computing League are working to shift the balance of diversity in the technology workplace. To ensure that boys and girls have equitable access to high quality education, tangible targets for gender equality in access to and use of AI technologies would be best as combined into national strategies for SDGs. To achieve gender equality in education through the use of new technologies it is also important that those are developed and implemented with the help and with partnerships of entities that embody values of gender equality and empowerment of women, one example is the movement HeForShe.
Role of AI
Harnessing emerging AI technologies remains imperative to accelerate progress towards SDG 4. AI when used to deliver education and training in formal and non-formal situations, at all times, everywhere, empowers people to collaborate by being powered by big data analytics, smart tutoring or education systems. AI can automatically identify students’ learning styles and difficulties. AI can improve excellence to expand learning pathways while reaching vulnerable and/or minority groups, including rural youth, adults, boy and girls worldwide.
For this to happen effectively, it is essential to provide an alternative to the chains of tech oligopolies where data, services, and profit are concentrated in the hands of the few, such as large organizations and companies. To ensure a more secure, appropriate, ethical use of data, the potential of AI technologies can be exploited from a perspective of decentralized, participatory control and guidance. With everybody participating in the next stages of development of AI, in a transparent and collaborative way, the benefits from a widely accessible use of data can be globally shared.
AI is already widening the horizon of new opportunities to take forward SDG4, thus to go beyond those efforts and “fix the broken promises of education for all”, political will, effective planning and resources for strong implementation is still required. The future can be bright for AI and education. Learning, knowledge and creativity aligned with values of human respect and citizenship through a democratized education is the key vision of DAIA. It has been said that we can never tell where a teacher’s influence stops because the teacher will affect the student for an eternity, we just need to ensure that everyone gets the chance to have one.
Text by Camila Froede
How can you get involved?
The vision of DAIA is to foster a world where AI technologies and associated data are made open with decentralized, democratic control for the benefit of all sentient beings.
The immense potential of AI means that it can either increase the inequalities of our societies or liberate us from numerous sufferings. We believe the best way forward is to come together and work practically toward creating a better future. We see a massive potential for evolution in the established centralized corporations. We believe tech giants can contribute immensely toward making the vision of DAIA a reality.
DAIA welcomes the participation of those corporations that are sincere about their aim and goal of democratizing AI. The open access networks that have come together to form DAIA, such as SingularityNET, Decentralized Machine Learning, Effect AI and Toda.Network, are the enabling layer for such a democratization process.
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