Transforming The Education System

Last month, I was invited to give a talk at the Artificial Intelligence Technology Conference in Atlanta. Following is my talk about Transforming the Education System.

“Improvements in Education are the foundation of all solutions to our challenging issues today such as unemployment, poverty, hunger, and war. The question is: “How can the education system be improved?

“We all know that Science and Technology have led to significant improvements in our daily lives. Not long ago, transportation has progressed from horse carriage to train and automobile, and soon we will have self-driving cars. Not long ago, communication has progressed from telegraph to telephones and today we have emails, mobile phone, text messages. However, Education has been slow to change as traditional education teaching method is still being used and exams are still the standard assessment of students’ achievement. How can we change something that has existed for hundreds of year? How can we retrain hundred thousands of teachers in the new teaching method and new materials? How can we change the mindset of students from focusing on passing exams to develop knowledge and skills? Many academic scholars are working on solving these questions for years without a conclusion. However, I believe we can solve these problems by applying technology to the current education system.

Although technology has been used in education courses such as educational games for young children, online courses that can reach many students from different locations, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are giving direct access to thousands of courses to a large number of people. These are the first steps, what we need is to overcome the resistance to change that keep the educational system to stay idle for years. The next steps are bringing more advanced science and technology to the education system to meet the demand of this 21st century. I believe the more educational technologies are in place, the more we can help students to achieve their goals in whatever fields they study. In other words, increasing educational technology use will help change the educational system faster.

Artificial Intelligence is a branch of Computer Science that focuses on building computers that can simulate human’s intelligent behavior. These computers can perform tasks traditionally associated with human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translating languages etc. Within these computers are machine learning algorithms that can learn to do many things from the data provided without requiring assistance from human programmers.

What we need is to bring Artificial Intelligence technology to the education system. Instead of retraining hundred thousands of teacher on new materials, we can teach the computers these materials so they can teach students. With the advancement of machine learning algorithms and neural networks, we can let subject expert teachers train these “smart” computers on their expertise. After that, these computers can teach students on a much larger scale. The computer will learn how to teach by “observing” how these teachers teach students. By observing hundreds of thousand teachers to teach, the computers will have enough data to learn and be able to perform the same tasks that the teachers used to do. With rapidly advancing machine learning algorithms, natural language processing, and neural networks these computers can learn fast and be able to teach effectively.

A human teacher often has limited time and patience when teaching but computers can do the same thing over and over until students meet the learning objectives. A computer can continue to teach until students are able to perform certain skills. Students can advance to the next levels only if they meet the learning criteria. The standard classroom where everybody moving at the same pace will be changed to a more personalized environment where students are moving at their own pace according to their own learning. In this environment, there is no pass or fail, no exams and test but certain levels of knowledge and skills that students develop on their own efforts.

In this new educational environment, computers do not replace human teachers but only be a part of it. While these computers can help students learn fundamental skills such as logic, reasoning, designing, and learning skills. The human teacher can spend the time to direct students to work on collaborative projects, develop other skills such as soft skills, ethical, moral, as well as certain roles and responsibilities in the society . I believe people are better to teach people skills and the computer is suitable to teach other skills. In this view, smart computers can be a regular part of every school instruction and play a major role in improving the education system.

We all want to make our lives better and education is the most important to improve our living conditions. I believe the application of Science and Technology to education system will improve the way students’ learn and help advance the educational to meet the demand of the 21st century. Teachers will continue to teach but they will be more effective using the computer tools as an assistant.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University