It’s not surprising that a day goes by without hearing a buzz-word on AI or analytics. Such is the influence of this word, today everyone wants to be a part of this ride; after the tech companies it is now the turn of schools. Recently, a well-known international school in India has introduced robots as part of the curriculum delivery. It sounds exciting to note that AI has finally arrived in style to Indian education. But does style meet the substance?

India’s literacy rate stands at 75% as per 2019 statistics (Source: Wikipedia). While this may seem impressive for a country that is just 73 years young post independence, the global ranking is not something to boast about. We are still ranked among one of the lowest in the entire world. In addition, the overall literacy rate doesn’t reveal the full story. There are glaring differences across the states that are not getting reflected in the overall literacy rate.

Under this scenario, ideally we would welcome any move that improves the overall education quality. One of the important aspects of educational quality in schools is content delivery and its efficiency. While there exists various skill development programmes, the resulting efficiency through such programmes are questionable and the benefits at the best incremental. However, with the introduction of AI into the classroom environment one would expect this efficiency to go up significantly. Will it?

With the introduction of robots into teaching, the students are bound to get excited. Could we say the same about teachers? Well Yes and No. While there is no doubt the robots can be best substitutes for ‘recollective’ learning in other words ‘rote learning’, they still may not be good at answering ‘difficult’ questions which a good teacher may be able to provide.

An ideal AI environment should be ‘immersive’ and ‘creative’ which are hard to replicate by a machine. It looks like the robots introduced in the school is one of the rudimentary kind. Also, the introduction of robots in schools is going to shift the ‘burden’ of education from the teacher to the ‘robot’ which is not a good sign. We can expect some ‘blame-it-onthe-robot’ news soon!

Introduction of AI also raises questions about costs. IBM’s Watson is a good attempt of a robot that is able to answer any questions thrown at it. It can even beat a human champion in a quiz competition! But, it took years of R&D and Millions of $s for IBM to reach this stage of perfection. Look no further; our very own phone assistant that is now years old is still struggling to make sense of our simple instructions, and Alexa systems are far from perfect.

The recent introduction of robots in schools provokes some fundamental questions about robots and AI in general in schools. Will the robots become a burden or a boon for the schools? Who will bear the costs of these programmes at the end of the day? Is the price paid worth the money? What happens to the teacher-student connect in the future? The answer seems obvious but one that is going to have a profound impact on access to education and the overall quality of education. Meanwhile, I’m keeping my fingers crossed and trying to ‘embrace’ this slow but sure revolution!

Dr M. Ramasubramaniam, PhD

Associate Professor (Operations & Business Analytics) and Visiting Associate Professor Malaysia Institute of Supply Chain and Innovation, Malaysia Loyola Institute of Business Administration

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