How AR and AI can make education more inclusive

By Yun Xuan Poon

Interview with Professor Chen Wenli, Associate Professor in the Learning Sciences and Assessment Academic Group, National Institute of Education, Singapore.

Pandemic learning can be challenging, especially for differently abled students. High screen times may be taxing on visually impaired students, and teachers need to work even harder to engage children with special needs.

The good news is, many schools are already using tech that tailor learning to different needs. Personalised curriculums “can enhance all students’ learning, including those disadvantaged students,” says Professor Chen Wenli.

Chen is an Associate Professor in learning sciences at Singapore’s teacher training institute, the National Institute of Education. She shares how AI and analytics can help students learn better in a virtual classroom.

Inclusive education

Remote education has catalysed a shift towards personalised learning. This opens up opportunities for schools to support differently abled students better.

Chen points to a UNESCO report on how AI can help students learn better. The 2020 report lists how schools are using new tech to make learning more accessible and inclusive.

For instance, Argentina uses AR to create an immersive learning environment for children with hearing impairments. “This is highly compatible with the learning of hearing-impaired children, who have a more developed sense of sight that improves their visual attention,” the report stated.

The tech is built for a mobile platform, which is relatively low cost and readily available. That means more students would be able to access it.

Next, Italy has developed AI to detect behavioural patterns in autistic children. Teachers and caregivers can then adapt the environment to the child's needs, rather than expecting the child to adjust.

The AI also shares an overview of the child’s learning progress with parents through a mobile app. It even suggests communication techniques and specific educational tools for different situations.

In Europe and Latin America, researchers have built a virtual AI assistant to help visually-impaired children move around the campus. The tool builds the child’s confidence by simulating obstacles and providing training on orientation, along with object and face recognition.

Personalised learning

Tech is helpful even for the wider student population. In a physical classroom, teachers have to divide their attention amongst 30 to 40 children. But tech allows for a one-to-one learning model online.

AI tools such as automated marking and always-on chatbots have become common, says Chen. Algorithms can also suggest learning materials based on a student’s goals and current knowledge.

Learning analytics is another important tool for personalised learning. Teachers can use it to monitor, analyse and predict students’ learning processes and outcomes. This could help them design curriculums and learning materials better, she explains.

Add wearable tech on top of this, and the possibilities become more exciting. Wearables and neuroscience methods could give “additional information to more holistically identify how students learn,” Chen says.

Teachers as “designers”

Today’s teachers are no longer knowledge providers, they are “designers of students’ learning environments and experiences”, Chen points out. She explains what this broader role means for the new skills that teachers will need.

It starts from basics: teachers will need to know how to adapt their curriculum to engage students more. “When students are not co-located together with the teacher and classmates, it is easy for them to be distracted,” she explains.

Teachers may have to rethink the way they deliver classes. Avoid long lectures, and conduct student-centered learning activities such as group discussions, she advises. Learning analytics and online polls are also helpful for assessing students’ understanding.

On top of this, there needs to be a closer partnership between teachers and tech experts, Chen notes. Teachers know the students’ needs best, while innovators have the technical expertise to create targeted tools.

This is already happening in countries such as Finland. Schools collaborate with edutech companies to co-create teaching programmes. This ensures the teacher’s perspective is taken into account, Anna Korpi, Counsellor of Education and Science at the Embassy of Finland in Singapore, told GovInsider.

Tech presents an unprecedented opportunity to customise the learning experience for each student’s needs. This could help every student reach their full potential, including those who may have been left behind before.