Welcome to our newest season of HumAIn podcast in 2021. HumAIn is your first look at the startups and industry titans that are leading and disrupting ML and AI, data science, developer tools, and technical education. I am your host David Yakobovitch, and this is HumAIn. If you like this episode, remember to subscribe and leave a review. Now on to our show. 

Welcome back, everyone, to the HumAIn podcast. Today, we are talking about the future of education for all our listeners. Education is one of my most passionate topics, being involved with multiple startups that have exited multiple ventures, that are supporting both the nonprofit and for-profit world.

And today I have, I would say, a luminary in the education field. Our guest speaker is Alex Beard. He is a Senior Director of Teach For All, which is very focused on global education for all, as well as the author of Natural Born Learners. Alex, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast.  

Alex Beard

Thanks so much for having me. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

David Yakobovitch

For everyone who’s listening and for us alike, 2020 has been a year that’s been unlike many others, but it has put center stage again, education. It’s something that we’ve all learned and we’re continuing to learn. What a shift for the audience. What are you seeing as the current education crisis and how it’s potentially being solved?

Alex Beard

This all started for me, David, about 10 years ago, a little over 10 years ago. When I became a teacher in a school in London. It was on the Old Camp Road, which is actually London’s cheapest monopoly property. And I thought teaching was going to be really easy. I would just walk into the classroom and talk to the kids and they’d learn just like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society.

But the truth was a long way from that. These kids were, half of them are free school meals. Two thirds of them spoke English as a second language. All of them came to schools for years behind where we hope they might’ve been in their reading and writing. And they were beginning to live in the future of these kids.

And yet, I knew as a teacher, the methods I was using to teach them would probably be familiar to Socrates two and a half thousand years ago in ancient Greece. And I knew that the world was changing. I knew that we were making huge advances in our technology. We’re making huge advances in understanding how brains worked.

I wasn’t seeing any of this inside the school where I was teaching. And that’s really what ignited my passion. But thinking about the future of education, the gap between what I thought was possible, if we were honest to all this new knowledge, and what was currently true in the classroom that I knew, and it’s that issue that’s at the heart of our education crisis. 

Let me just give you a few stats. Even before the pandemic, 800 million kids around the world were in school, but not learning according to the World Bank. So we’ve made huge progress ensuring that all kids can be in a school room with the teacher standing in front of them, but huge numbers of them aren’t learning enough to participate in the world of today, whether economically, socially, culturally, and then, added to that, this year the global pandemic suddenly kicked one and a half billion kids out of school. So no longer could they even go into the classrooms, many months on end. And that crisis has created effects that we’re still only beginning to understand.

Certainly it’s widened the educational divide. Kids with more resources have had a less bad deal through the pandemic than kids who don’t have resources. It’s opened up really interesting questions about the role of tech. How important are teachers? What role should families play in education? 

If kids are going to be learning at home, are kids even learning the right things? Shouldn’t you be focusing more on their well-being and the real world skills rather than just plugging gaps in their knowledge?

And so, the pandemic has exacerbated the crisis and intensified some of these questions about what the future of education might own. 

David Yakobovitch

It’s incredible that myself as a first-generation student who went to college, to know that equality is not everywhere for all learners. And just as you mentioned, Alex, thinking back whether we think of early school, secondary school, college, that there’s so much to learn, the world is changing so quickly and not everyone is at the same level, but I wonder why is that the case and why should that be the case? Do you have to go to Harvard or Stanford or Columbia to learn something?

I don’t think so. My undergrad was University of Florida. So we’re often known as the Ivy of the South in Florida. When in the past I actually tutored students who were going to Harvard University and to Business School when I was just getting started in New York. And I looked at the material, I said, this is the same material that we’re learning at a state school. So it’s interesting, but also, we’ve seen during the pandemic that everyone’s gone remote-only.

And of course, the birth of online and remote education, and the technology that’s powered, it has been going on over 20 years. But as you said, the gap has gotten further. I live in New York City today, and it was promised that all students would get iPads and Chromebooks to learn. It has not happened. How about students who might have mental health challenges or special learning needs have not received the resources either?

The biggest disservice during the pandemic with online education has been, if you’re currently a high school, secondary student or college student, you have all the mental faculties, you’re already really disciplined, motivated in general to learn and excel. But what about the middle school students? What about the elementary school students? Of those 1.5 billion students getting left behind a lot of them might be the younger kids. 

Alex Beard

Could not agree more.  So when we think about this, we think about two topics. We think about access and we think about quality. And I want to just give a brief overview of those two things.

One of the things we haven’t really had to deal with before in global education recently is this access question. So access normally just means, is there a classroom that I can turn up and gain education? When schools are shut down, suddenly access actually becomes a different question. It becomes, is there infrastructure that allows me, whether it’s through the internet and a laptop or through the radio or through a television to actually be able to engage with an educator or engage with some educational software or content, however it may be delivered?

And when you look at it globally, of course, this is true for some kids in New York and some kids in London, as well. They don’t have the access, many, a much smaller scale than somewhere in the global South, for example. But that is something that we have to focus on. Now that’s a relatively technical solution.

That’s about building infrastructure and supplying hardware. The interesting bit, probably, which is what you’re talking about is quality, but what does a quality education look like online? So, when we talk about quality education, we’re talking about how good the teacher is in the classroom in front of you.

But again, if you’re not going to school, suddenly the question is, how good is the quality of education that you’re receiving sitting in your bedroom via your laptop? But what’s really interesting and it’s true, what you said has completely disrupted our idea of what a quality education is.

If you’re not wandering around the campus of Harvard, if no one is, then actually everybody has access to quite a high level of quality education in terms of the content they can access online. 

And there’s some really interesting organizations springing up, Outlier.org, from the masterclass guys, great new university models for college kids.

And there’s huge potential for technology. But what you say is spot on, college kids are self-motivated. They can sit down, most can sit down, work through exercises alone, watch lectures, motivate themselves to do that. 

But from my experience as a teacher, the vast majority of primary and middle school kids are just not equipped with those kinds of faculties yet, and sitting in front of a laptop. This is what’s happening. There’s so much other stuff online that you might otherwise want to be looking at than the class you’re supposed to be doing for school and the exercises you’re supposed to be filling in. 

And so, that’s where quality has to mean something about human to human engagement. And when the teacher comes back as a figure, even with an online education, it would have the schools and teachers and people that I’ve spoken to, have learnt more than anything, during the pandemic tech can be a really good crunch for the education system, and actually can enhance what teachers do quite significantly.

And you can certainly solve a problem now, but it really matters, most of the time with K-12 school-aged kids, that there is a teacher, that there is another human that is engaging them in a learning process to keep them motivated, to help them when they struggle or don’t know the answer, or don’t know how to make progress, because ultimately, learning for most people is better when it’s social.

David Yakobovitch

You need a champion. You need someone who’s your advocate and they’re pushing you beyond. And we’ve seen it with some of the major tech apps out there, like Duolingo for learning languages, very social, very gamified, leaderboards, competing with your friends, all very friendly competition.

We’ve seen it with other sports like chess, which has come back into the limelight this year with Queen’s Gambit, that everyone’s competing and, it’s all fun and free. And those are, of course, extracurriculars, hobbies. Most people are not going to become Beth from Queen’s Gambit and become world-class chess players.

They’re looking to build a life of purpose and meaning, and that starts with education. And one of my biggest concerns is that I’m thinking everyday how to solve it. As a result of the pandemic, kids have been out of school globally. And they haven’t been out of school globally for a month, two months. It’s been a year.

And of the 1.5 billion kids that are falling behind, what’s possible? A lot of the parents are concerned, is there a pre-K for all? Is there learning happening even remote? If parents are working a job and being remote, I’m trying to think, how can we solve for education?

Alex Beard

We’ve seen some really promising stuff emerging across our global network Teach For All. And lots of those were responses that came from the grassroots from educators in general, trying to solve this problem. So the moment the schools were locked down and these one and a half billion kids were out of school, teachers began to ask themselves, can we see this huge crisis coming? We know that if these kids are out of school for too long, then the divide will widen. So what are we going to do about it? Here in the UK, there was an amazing group called OIC National Academy. And basically, a group of 40 teachers came together in the two weeks of the Easter holidays.

They should have been relaxing, but instead, they created an online school. They created their own lesson content. They found a house to put it together. They got a little bit of support from Google and have launched now a National Academy, which provides lessons five hours per day in every subject for every age group of children in the UK weekly.

They got 800,000 users and they’ve been used moving 30 million times by different people across the country. And this was something created by teachers and it’s completely free for public use. It will become part of the system in the long run. 

Then that’s all going away because it has so much use. Teachers can use it in their classrooms. They can, if a kid is sick or off school, or they want to set some homework, then the children can use this platform. And so that thing will become a common feature of education systems as a result. And somewhere like the UK, that’s good because it will plug gaps. 

Everybody more or less has access to the hardware they need. So kids can use that. So it will potentially have a bit of an equalizing effect. So that’s one example. 

In Nigeria, where we work as well, Teach for Nigeria based-staff. It’s a different setting. Most kids don’t have access to a device or necessarily the internet. And so there again, a group of teachers haunted a state television channel to create television lessons. And again, what we’re finding in all of these examples. Those guys reached again, millions of children across Ogun state in the South of Nigeria. 

And what we have, what we see with the practitioners is that they’re having to develop new pedagogies, new ways of learning, how to engage kids through the medium of technology, through a screen. And we probably have made progress on that. We don’t really believe any longer that if you just sit a learner in front of a screen with a video, that’s going to give them a full education. 

You need to know how to engage a student. You don’t have to pick their interest and what to do if they get stuck and how to help them work through it. And most of that stuff, we haven’t really figured out yet, how to encode it to the technology. 

You still need that teacher that even if they’re operating through Zoom, or through a radio phone, to be able to help with that. So we’re seeing lots of grassroots solutions popping up.

One other thing that’s giving me hope is that it’s also forcing teachers to be in touch with parents and parents be in touch with teachers more than we’ve seen in the past. And what we know from technologies of the past and in other sectors is they can have this multiplying effect. 

So if you’ve got a good tool, like a platform on which a child is carrying out their learning, then it gives visibility to both the teacher and the parent to see what the child is doing, and the common grounds for communication.

So how is  Alex getting on with this task? Where are those misapprehensions or areas for further work? And because the kids aren’t coming to school, the teachers are having to pick up the phone to parents. Parents are having to pick up the phone to teachers to better understand what’s going on.

And so we may be strangely strengthening bonds between teachers and parents, strengthening that active role parents are playing in education as a result of the pandemic. And you just go back to your point about pre-K, what we know is pre-K is all about the parents. So how far are parents equipped to work with or support their kids from the moment they’re born?

We know all sorts of statistics, the three things that matter more than anything when a child is in their early years are first of all, the amount of words that they hear, the variety of words. There’s that famous study from Harvard misery in Kansas, that rich kids hear 30 million more words than poor kids by the age of five. And that stuff is happening, whether there’s a pandemic or not. So, that kind of input matters. Play is really important. So you want to have lots of stimulus, but you have to have lots of freedom and exploration and feedback as a small learner.

And then, finally, that you’re in a loving and secure environment. You feel love. That’s actually the most important thing, you feel securely attached in the world. And that depends on the parents. 

And there are some amazing things out there, amazing organizations that are working with parents to help them to support the youngest kids. So there’s this incredible app here in the UK called EasyPeasy, and they send out regular messages to parents to help them with kids.

And what we’re learning from the pandemic is, maybe we should be applying some of that thinking about how we support early learning, virtually, to how we support the learning of kids at primary school and middle school. And that involves engaging parents more actively in supporting their kids to learn.

David Yakobovitch

From all the areas just described, Alex, the biggest area that I hear that’s been missed out on this playing, also, that a lot of primary school is you’re with your friends, the social aspect, the social learning, the social playing. And if you’re just doing that on the screen, it becomes a very lonely time, isolating introspective.

And, at least when we think more about secondary students and middle high school, at least in the United States, and I’m sure this is globally, that mental health has risen to the occasion as the new barrier that needs to be solved beyond just education. And often I saw in my experience and even in the classroom today that us, educators, often are that counselor and coach and that champion to encourage people to dig deep beyond the mental health challenges, they have to have a good learning moment. 

That’s one of the areas that hasn’t been solved yet, but there’s also emerging solutions. We know that a lot of governments have partnered with platforms like Calm.com and Headspace, which helps us, who are very more Socratic, to be able to go deeper there.

But there’s so much more, there’s so many emerging solutions. And one of the biggest takeaways I love from the examples that you shared is that practitioners are leading the response, teachers in the UK, teachers in Nigeria, teachers in America are saying, the government is great. They support us with their policies, but often they’re not fast enough, when we need different change. So, we, the people, can lead, and that’s been really exciting to see. 

Alex Beard

That’s exactly it. We all knew before the pandemic that schools were important and that teachers were important, but after the pandemic, we really knew that schools and teachers were important and you began to actually understand the role that schools and teachers play in societies and communities.

So we think of the places of learning, this is where our kids go so that they can pass their exams or what have you. But it’s of course, more than that. It’s also where children go to learn to be in society. It’s where they go and someone’s looking out for their well-being, how they’re doing.

It’s also the place where kids go so that parents can go to work and the economy can still function. Essentially, we found out that it might be, there is no institution more important to our societies than the school, the school is the hub of absolutely everything. It drives our economies. If you will, the bonds in our societies. It replenishes our culture. It allows us to go to work.

If there’s one thing we take away, I hope that it’s that education is the most crucial thing that we do in schools, really doing amazing things, but it’s also, as you say, pointing to, maybe, an expanded idea of the role for teachers. 

Now, even before the pandemic, I thought that teachers had the most important job in society. So we live in this era in which all of the resources are running out. The land is running out. The resources that we use for energy are running out. The only limited resource we have is human ingenuity.

That’s unlimited, our intelligence. And it’s teachers in schools that cultivate that potential. But we need to be more explicit about the different roles that teachers play, and set up our system to enable that teachers are subject specialists who help kids to do better in math or English or geography or art or whatever it might be.

But also as you were hinting at, they’re psychologists. They’re people that nurture the bonds in a group, that understand how to motivate other human beings that are trying to build an environment and a culture in which kids succeed and try. But actually, more than that, now we also need teachers to be neuroscientists, to understand a bit of the science behind how a brain develops. We’ll be applying that practice in that classroom. 

And then, finally, we need teachers to be no experts in tech, at least to understand how they can use the latest tools to outsource bits of their practice to save themselves time. Why don’t I use this platform for my assessment? So then it will do the analysis for me and I’ll get the trends for my class.

And that will save me some time or the kids need to learn this topic. I could use this other platform to help them to practice that learning or conversational agent or whatever it might be in the future. And so, teachers are going to need to be subject specialists, coaches, and psychologists, neuroscientists, and experts in understanding how the tech works.

The pandemic has accelerated that, like you say, there’s this big question of well-being. Teachers are very worried about the well-being of their students and they feel responsible for that. And so that’s going to be a big trend. They’re having to use technology, many teachers for the first time.

And there are some young, innovative teachers out there who are stepping up to the plate and helping their colleagues to get online and understand how to do those lectures through Zoom or what have you. And so, we’ve slightly accelerated this shift in what the role of the teacher is in the 21st century, and what tools those teachers are equipped to use.

David Yakobovitch

It’s so perfect how you put it, Alex, the teacher is to teach. And so to expand the idea of a teacher is to say, should the teachers really just be grading? Should the teacher really be understanding all these things themselves, or can they use different tools to augment that? So like you mentioned, there’s a lot of automation, assessment tools coming out.

Do I need to manually use a pen and paper and check, correct wrong when I can auto tabulate that? can I use these different platforms? If I’m a Spanish teacher, can I use Duolingo to empower my students for learning, not necessarily fully replacing the textbook, but to supplement and augment that?

And then to see better what students are succeeding or falling behind. So I see this all across the industry education, every vertical. Initially, there’s always this concern of fear, we’re outsourcing, we’re automating. Is it the end of teachers? Are Teachers going away? It’s all going to be these robots? I don’t think so. It’s going to create more powerful and meaningful learning experiences.

Alex Beard

I certainly hope that is the case. When I set out to do the research for my book, I went on this journey, it took me across six continents over two years to meet with teachers and the cutting edge scientists, technologists, to try to discover what is the future of education, what it’s already here with us.

And that was it. I had heard wherever reading things from folks who are a little bit utopian about this stuff, that the robot teachers were coming, that we’re going to have these AI teachers, and human teachers would be a thing of the past. I didn’t see it.  I went looking for it.

I didn’t find that. But what I did find was still exciting. And that was that there were these tools that we’re developing now, which can enhance what teachers are doing now. We have to be careful in education, what we enhance them and what we outsource. So we already know that, for example, by using our navigation apps on our smartphones, that the hippocampus in our brains is shrinking in size on average, because we’re not using it.

That’s the navigational part of the brain and we’re not using it. And so, because we’re outsourcing it,  technology can have a real effect on human learning. There’s also another interesting issue, which is that in tech, we are often trying to be user-friendly about things, whereas learning is really user-friendly.

It has to be user unfriendly for it to be of any use. You need a bit of friction to rub up against this concept of desirable difficulty that a couple of psychologists identified in learning. If it’s not difficult, you’re probably not learning. You’re probably being conditioned. So we have to kind of be wary of these things that I said. 

From the moment I started looking into this to now, we’ve really matured an understanding of the role of the role that tech will play in education in the future. And that is exactly, as you say, to equip teachers with tools. Assessment is one big thing. 

So there’s a really interesting organization here in the UK called Century Tech. And they’re working in dozens of schools across the country, half the schools in Belgium. They’re expanding all over the world. They have a platform which students only use for a couple of hours a week and they do whatever it might be. I did a little bit of Math, a little bit of English. And as they’re using it, the platform is recording all the data it can about them.

So every answer they gave, when they put an answer in or delete the answer, how they move the cursor around the screen. Some of it is legitimate. Some of it is maybe reaching a little bit current date, but then those things are analyzed by the engine compared to all the other thousands of kids using the platform and a dashboard that gives that information in a really user-friendly way to the teacher, so the teacher can look at how students are getting on, and also go to the parents. The parents can see how that’s going. So you’re getting this assessment, which is allowing teachers to make judgements. So it’s like empowering human judgment, which we know to be a good use of technology, AI-assisted technologies in general.

So that’s happening. The route of getting a little bit of personalization of learning. So through platforms, where platforms can then based on the analysis of where kids have got strengths or weaknesses after they’ve used the platform, serve content to those kids a bit like, the Netflix or Amazon algorithm would serve us.

Content link to our interest in shopping or whatever it might be, which is perfectly matched to what we need to learn next. And that stuff is working quite well. Just to come back to your point about Duolingo for subjects, where there’s a reason, clear and structured knowledge base, like a language or like mathematics or like science or whether like a set of discrete pieces of knowledge that we know kids need to master, these kinds of AI-enabled personalized learning platforms are pretty good for that. 

They’re pretty good for exam prep in India, in China, there are dozens of these AI education companies who are doing test prep and making billions, because first of all, everybody wants to ask back in those countries, but secondly, it’s slightly easier to automate a test prep type engine, because it’s all about right or wrong answers. You could see that being a frontier as well. 

Now, of course, there’s a huge amount of other stuff, which that leaves for the humans to be doing in the loop. So actually, in the most hopeful cases, you’re saving teacher time by putting tech in the hands of learners and teachers, so that they could do the kinds of more routine activities that a teacher doesn’t really need to be there for, which then frees up the teacher to do the more creative stuff. The small group interventions, the working with individual students to help them get past misapprehensions that they have, and so on. 

And so, I’m excited that we’ve got this more mature understanding of the role that tech and AI was going to play at education in the future. 

David Yakobovitch

We’re seeing it globally. We’re seeing it in startups. Like you’ve seen with Squirrel AI in China and other ventures that are seeing not how to remove the teacher from the loop, but how to augment the teacher in the student learning. 

And that personalization has been going on forever to these non-adaptive apps to, now, the age of adaptive apps that are coming about. And of course, this while seems very promising and exciting, it does always beg the question of what dangers can exist and the dangers of AI. And are we creating humans that shouldn’t be humans? 

The case I share is chess. I’m a huge fan of this game. And I mentioned this year, Queen’s gambit came out and I love it and love to play chess on chess.com. And I actually had recently interviewed the CTO at Play Magnus. 

The CTO makes this app from Magnus Carlsen, the chess player. So, Magnus Carlsen trains with AI to become a better chess player. And now when he plays some of these top players, he does unconventional moves, not the moves that Bobby Fischer would make, but moves that no one would expect to get thrown off, Magnus Carlsen gets into a disadvantage. But then, because it’s so unique, He’s discovered new pathways, basically neuro-linguistic programming for himself, how to play better, how to play differently. So I look at that as an example of what seemed like it was a danger.

AI is going to beat humans, but now we got smarter humans at chess and we have all these new techniques. Whether you’re thinking about AI with education, are these real dangers, is there hype? What do you think? 

Alex Beard

That is such an interesting topic. AI is sort of an adversary to help us enhance our own creativity. And there were other examples of composers who have put their music through various AI engines and listened to those compositions and advanced their own practice by several years, just by being able to skip those developmental leaps that they would have made themselves. Because AI has helped them to do so.

That stuff is really exciting at the moment. It feels to me like, again, you could imagine a beginner learning chess through that method as well. So you could imagine if I’m motivated to learn, to play chess, I can play against the computer agent and get better at chess. I don’t have to be a Grandmaster, but if I am a Grandmaster, it’s going to help me to take these extra leaps into the future.

Now, again, it works for something like Duolingo as well. I come back to this point that you made earlier. That’s a bit about the motivation. Am I able to keep myself in this game, keep myself going through the learning? So I don’t see necessarily danger in that kind of use of AI in education.

The dangers for me are more connected to the intentions that will be encoded into whatever it is that we create. So, for example, we could easily encode. And  what I’m saying is, it’s not the AI that’s really dangerous. It’s the humans and what they’re doing with it and how they design it in the first place.

There are a few things worth raising. So encoding biases into algorithms very famously. What happens to the data that companies like squirrel AI gather and what do they use it for? The fact that currently in many applications, AI is being used to create these slightly more ropes, a routine learning environment.

And is there a danger that we narrow the scope of education because it’s slightly easier for our AI’s to read and understand and to structure? But again, that will come down to human choices, but there are some very real ones.

I could imagine a cheaper education system, which is almost entirely served via tablet, computers and involves very few teachers. And it probably won’t be quite as good as having a great teacher, but it might actually be slightly better than having a bad teacher. And certainly, it will be cheaper than having teachers in every classroom. So there’s a danger there of us driving ourselves towards a very homogenized, assignee, cheaper education system that we should guard against. 

It’s going to be humans that make those decisions. It’s not necessarily a logic in the technology. That’s the logic of the market. That’s potentially difficult there in other countries. There are maybe some slightly scary things.

So in China, I went to the conference in Beijing last year, all about facial monitoring in the classroom. Dozens of companies got up on stage, showed off their different softwares that they were using to see where the kids were paying attention in class.

So these are classrooms across China and other places where there are cameras at the top of the blackboard staring out at the kids and monitoring throughout the class. And in theory, that can give teachers interesting bits of information about which parts of their lessons were more or less engaging to the students and how students were feeling during the class.

On the other hand, if you’re living in a surveillance state, which tracks a lot of data of citizens, continually, you have to ask yourself what kind of influences might be made from that and what that data means for you in the future. 

So again, it comes down to who gets the data, and who’s doing what with it afterwards. I don’t think that tech is necessarily good or evil by itself, it’s what we do with it as users. And so we have to make those decisions,  teachers, so we could see tech as a way we could want to automate teachers. Because we don’t think there are any good and we could take away from them as many of the skills that we can, because we want to create a product which is consistent, like a sort of education Starbucks or something. 

They have that with bridge international schools in any staff, Africa. The teachers aren’t really highly qualified teachers. They’re just adults and they ended up on a tablet and reading lesson scripts out.

Now that gives the kids a relatively good average layer of education, but those teachers are never going to get better at teaching because they’re just continually meeting a script down. 

So there’s a risk again, if you deploy technology and in certain ways of undermining the ability of humans to get better at things done, happily, lots of people are designing to enhance the humans in the loop, which is how we should be thinking about it. But there’s a danger when we don’t design with that in mind. 

David Yakobovitch

So taking everything we’ve talked about today, we know that the world is, hopefully, going to begin reopening as the next two years, these vaccines come live and we move back from all online to not necessarily all in-person, but maybe some hybrid model.

And education’s going to keep evolving. What do you see as a call to action for our listeners today, that we should be thinking about education or any takeaways?

Alex Beard

The favorite classroom I went to in all of my travels was a classroom and the teacher goes back and this was Finland’s most famous teacher. And in his classroom, I saw him, he brought a question up on the whiteboard, and then you got kids to use their devices, to answers A, B, C, D, or E. He displayed the answers in a bar chart on his board, and then he didn’t tell them the answer. He said, talk to each other, explain to each other what answers you gave.

After a few minutes, they’d been their answers in again. And the bar chart had shifted. The kids had taught each other and he basically told me off was, we have technology now, which allows me to coach kids on their abilities as learners and allow the content to take care of itself. He gave them everything that they needed at the beginning of the time, he gave them their tests, the answers to the test, their books and everything.

And then they would work their way through it. Once he gave him feedback on things like that collaboration, that perseverance, that was where he was focusing as a teacher. And the call to action there is to notice that in the deployment of technology in education, there are great advances to be made, but the advances will be made not by trying to improve tech, but by trying to improve what the humans are doing with tech. 

It’s all about, for me, an investment in people and not an investment in technology. Tech is pretty good already, and we can do great things with it. What we need to focus on, if you’re thinking about designing something or you’re working in education, the call to action is this: that we should be thinking about designing simple tools that support people to be better and not complicated tools that replace people. 

David Yakobovitch

Wow. With that, Alex Beard, Senior Director for Teach For All, author of Natural Born Learners.

Thank you so much for joining us on HumAIn. 

Alex Beard

Thanks for having me, David.

David Yakobovitch

Thank you for listening to this episode of the HumAIn podcast. Did the episode measure up to your thoughts and ML and AI data science, developer tools and technical education? Share your thoughts with me at humainpodcast.com/contact. Remember to share this episode with a friend, subscribe and leave a review. And listen for more episodes of HumAIn.