The Netflix generation has redefined public services – citizens can file taxes, apply for a new passport and book a doctor’s appointment online any time of the day. How can educational institutes use new tech to make education more accessible?

Much of education has digitised in the past year. Higher learning institutes are exploring creative ways of using analytics and AI to equip teachers with new skills and prepare students for a disruptive future.

Singapore Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic shared with GovInsider how new tech is taking learning to the next level.

New age of teaching

Singapore’s higher learning institutes are boldly experimenting with emerging tech. For instance, Ngee Ann Polytechnic is currently trialling AI for marking, creating immersive environments for online practicals and remote exam invigilators, says Shirley Williams, Director of the school’s Centre for Learning & Teaching Excellence.

These pilots come as remote education prompts a shift towards “always-on learning”. Schools will need tech to catch up. AI chatbots can aid in providing on demand teaching and marking, Williams notes.

As schools pivot to online teaching, teachers have to find new ways to observe if students are learning well or paying attention, shares Dr Edna Chan, Centre Director of the Data Science and Analytics Centre at Singapore Polytechnic. It’s much harder to pick up on visual cues such as body language online, especially when students turn off webcams to cope with limited bandwidths.

Interactive data dashboards will be helpful. These allow teachers to keep track of students’ progress, so they can identify learning gaps and provide targeted guidance, she explains.

AI will help teachers identify and provide more support to struggling students. “Teachers can send targeted questions or quizzes to them during their revision so that they can work on their weaker areas,” she adds.

It’s also useful to know how to create good digital teaching content, says Chan. Videos and infographics, for instance, will be particularly beneficial.

How to train a teacher

AI helps teachers upskill too. There are algorithms which comb through teachers’ resumes to extract a list of skills, analyse skill gaps and recommend suitable training programmes, Chan shares. They can also update the system with new skills as they complete courses.

This is especially important for teachers who need “very specific skillsets and knowledge”, such as diploma programmes’ course chairs, she says. Singapore Polytechnic created a Skills Dashboard to pick out the new skills in demand from online job listings.

Course chairs can use this information to curate the curriculum or launch new modules. “The dashboard can also be used to identify top employers for student internship opportunities and industry collaborations,” she notes.

Singapore Polytechnic has also rolled out training programmes to help staff use new tech tools. One example is a two-day course on data analysis and visualisation, which teaches all staff to interpret and make effective use of data in their respective roles, Chan explains.

Preparing the next generation

With so much disruption happening today, schools need to prepare students for jobs that may not even exist yet. Singapore Polytechnic is piloting a curriculum to prepare students for a disruptive world.

It has identified two types of core skills: tech skills such as AI, data analytics and data visualisation, along with soft skills like complex problem solving and digital communication. These will give students an interdisciplinary education that will help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, says Chan.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s new Diploma in Data Science, on the other hand, will take “a very practical approach”, says Patrice Choong, Second Director of the school’s Continuing Education & Training Academy. Students will work with real world data using industry standard tools.

“We hope to bring students as close as possible to the industry, so as to ease transition to the working world,” Choong says. Ngee Ann Polytechnic partners with companies to come up with real world case studies for its graded projects, and students are mentored by companies along the way.

Help companies upskill

Polytechnics are lending their expertise to boost companies’ digital transformation efforts. Singapore Polytechnic’s Data Science and Analytics Centre works with businesses to develop the analytics and AI tools that they need, and upskill their employees.

For instance, the Centre could help organisations build an analytics dashboard. This starts with identifying the tools they’re already using, as well as the data they commonly use, Chan says. The Centre will then work with the companies to design a bespoke course, so future trainees would quickly learn how to develop their own dashboards.

Analytics and AI offer many possibilities for more personalised and accessible education. They will help teachers and students alike as they adapt to a new age of education.