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Artificial Intelligence in South African Schools

Artificial Intelligence in South African Schools
With driverless taxis hitting the streets of San Francisco last year, evidently, humanity’s trust in artificial intelligence (AI) has turned a significant corner. No longer is the idea of computers being able to evolve and learn reserved to the pages of science fiction novels or Steven Spielberg blockbusters. In fact, this automated, adaptive technology will soon be arriving in schools in developing nations across the African continent; helping to educate future generations and alleviate millions from the confines of entrenched poverty. 

What is Adaptive Learning Technology?

Adaptive learning is a concept that has been around for decades and depicts a method whereby teachers try to suit the unique requirements of individual students by customizing activities specifically for them. By having students work on computers with adaptive learning technology software installed, individual pupils can receive hints and tips on how to solve problems separately from their peers, who may not require the extra help. This boosts confidence in struggling students and ensures they do not end up behind. 

Who is Behind It?

Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, South Africa’s Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies announced the establishment of an Artificial Intelligence Institute at the G20 Digital Economy Ministers Meeting in Bali in September 2022. Ntshavheni stated that it was crucial that South Africa invests significantly to provide its youth with “access to modern training, skill sets and formal education.” To achieve this, the Department of Basic Education has introduced robotics and coding to the countrys school curriculum for Grades R to 3 and Grade 7 for the year 2023. This desire to introduce artificial intelligence in South African schools has come just months after Kenya became the first African country to teach coding as a school subject in March 2022. 

Which Companies are Pioneering the Software?

The ADvTech Group, a Johannesburg-based company that operates within the education industry, has become the first initiative to roll out its own artificial intelligence in South African schools. The new digital learning platform ADvLEARN aims to “enhance learning in Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Mathematical Literacy.” MathU, a “software as a service (SaaS)” company based in Pretoria that specializes in adaptive learning technology and software engineering is creating this technology. The ambition is to create “personalized learning pathways” which will fill in any gaps in students learning, providing each pupil with the equivalent of a one-on-one tutor. 

Who is Benefitting From AI?

Daniel Makina, writing in the SA Financial Markets Journal, notes the boom in AI agricultural start-ups such as Aerobotics, MySmartFarm and DroneClouds, which are “spurring the technological revolution” in South Africa. The employment of AI in the agricultural sector has led to significant and permanent changes that will have lasting implications. In helping to identify diseases and enable the monitoring of soil health without the need for laboratory testing infrastructure, AI will allow future farmers to broker better prices with suppliers. Similarly, the introduction of artificial intelligence in South African schoolswill help educate the next generation, and not just the brightest students but all those who would otherwise end up behind by a lack of customized tuition in large classrooms. 

Ultimately, those that wish to see a prosperous South Africa will welcome the increased involvement of adaptive technology in classrooms. The capacity to provide more support for students who may otherwise slip under the radar could have long-term benefits for future generations. Education is one of the key components in alleviating whole generations from the spiral of poverty and the introduction of artificial intelligence in South African schools may well serve as a catalyst in improving the lives of many of the nation’s poorest.

– Max Edmund
Photo: Flickr