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Story | Education
24 March 2021

Even with AI moving into classrooms, teachers will always be in demand: QF alumnus


Technology is becoming increasingly central to education – but what will it mean for teachers? 

Image source: MarceloMayoPH, via Shutterstock

Touhami Abi says moving away from a “one-size-fits-all’ theory is what educational technology is seeking to achieve.

Artificial intelligence will greatly enhance education, but it does not mean teachers will be in less demand or see their roles replaced by technology, an edtech expert and Qatar Foundation graduate has emphasized.

Moving away from the one-size-fits-all theory is the benefit that educational technology seeks to achieve, and it also represents a way of reducing the burden on teachers

Touhami Abi

Touhami Abi, who is Training Lead at Ventures for Canada – an organization helping young Canadians to gain entrepreneurship skills and mindsets, and startups and small businesses to hire talent – believes the world “cannot count completely on Artificial Intelligence in education”, and that the way humans learn, which goes beyond simply receiving and comprehending content, means teachers will always be needed.

“Learners learn through types of interaction with the content, including emotional engagement and cross-interaction”, said Abi, an alumnus of Georgetown University in Qatar, a Qatar Foundation (QF) partner university. “Teachers spend a lot of time planning the content and trying to understand how to present it through a number of activities.

Touhami Abi, an EdTech expert and Qatar Foundation graduate.

“This means personal learning, providing content with greater quality and efficiency, and moving away from the one-size-fits-all theory is the benefit that educational technology seeks to achieve, and it also represents a way of reducing the burden on teachers.”

Abi – who previously led the WISE Accelerator program within the World Innovation Summit for Health, QF’s global education initiative, as it supported the growth of edtech ventures from around the world – stresses that provide appropriate learning online is “a big and complicated challenge”, saying: “When the lockdown period started due to COVID-19 preventative measures, we resorted to online learning where schools or universities were trying to deliver content over the internet.

“We know this was initially not very effective in many educational centers, because creating and presenting content online requires months of preparation in order to offer a good experience for learners and improve their learning outcomes. Yet, after a short period of time, we began to see teachers and schools adapt to this situation.

“Before the start of the pandemic that has swept across the world, the use of technology was an additional feature applied in learning, but its use has increased rapidly over the past few months. This is due to the shift in educational approaches adopted by schools and universities, where technology was a must for teachers and students and they depended on it, in addition to the increasing use of technology by parents to help their children do homework, communicate better and track the progress of their children, and coordinate easily with teachers.”

AI is already being used in many educational technology solutions and natural language processing for machine learning, and this makes it a tool that helps us improve any solution or even certain content

Touhami Abi

According to Abi, educational solutions are divided into four parts: learning acquisition, where knowledge is accepted into the subconscious; gathering information in Big Data forms; the design of content and the ability to convey it to learners; and the success or impact gained from this process.

Meanwhile, Artificial intelligence (AI) is split into two categories, with the first being general AI, which is able to do any task like humans – as seen in science fiction movies – but which may still be several decades away. The second is called applied AI, which is usually found in programs such as those which can fly and land planes, helping people to play a sport like golf, or provide more efficient ways of help us to locate gas and oil.

“This type of AI already exists, and there is a subset of it – machine learning - which we also refer to with AI in quite an interchangeable way,” said Abi. “This is where a software has the ability to learn, as we feed it with data that means it becomes able to solve challenges in better ways.

“Within this subset, we have what we call natural language processing; an interesting domain within the AI field, through which we see how software learns better in the nuances of the human language. AI is already being used in many educational technology solutions and natural language processing for machine learning, and this makes it a tool that helps us improve any solution or even certain content.

“In this way, scalability and customization become available, and this is how we approach the use of AI.”

Adopting technology properly in education is not easy, and there are many parties who play different roles in this process

Touhami Abi

Abi explains that AI is being used to personalize education, through delivering better content for each learner. “AI is increasingly used to conduct assessment in different subjects such as mathematics and languages, and then leverage the power of machine learning to recommend personalized learning paths for the learners,”,” he said.

“In classrooms, we work in accordance with the number of students. If there are 30 students in a classroom, it is difficult, within 45 minutes or one hour, to customize the content to them all, and this is where AI comes in.

“It does this faster and with greater efficiency. Through AI, we became more able to keep track of how students’ progress by interacting with specific content, how to avoid mistakes to improve performance, or even how to make learning more interesting.”

Acquiring new technologies in education allows better communication of content, says Abi, which is a major element in education. But he adds: “Adopting technology properly in education is not easy, and there are many parties who play different roles in this process.

Touhami Abi says the pandemic has seen the use of technology in education increase rapidly. Image source: Diego Cervo, via Shutterstock

“Planning at a national level as well as teachers’ keenness, is essential. Training teachers on distance learning is also important, whether to meet future educational or economic needs, or to enable education to deal with potential future situations that are similar to the current pandemic.

“And more research is needed to further understand education technology solutions, through sharing the learning outcomes from them. This has been a challenge, as technology founders have had difficulty in accessing schools and universities to experiment with solutions, although we have been witnessing an increasing innovation of technical solutions during the past 5-6 years.

“In this field, we still need more research and more cooperation with institutions like Qatar Foundation, which is a hub for teachers and researchers from IT providers to conduct such types of research.”

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