Whether the cause is a disability, long illness, psychological challenges, or parental choice, many children find themselves facing the daunting task of acquiring an education at home.
During the global pandemic, homeschooling issues became a particular concern, as teachers and parents attempted to use their time and energy most productively and vulnerable students worried about falling behind, among other anxieties.
On a practical level, in some cases, homeschooling can eat up 10% of a particular school’s budget even when less than 1% of the pupils require the service.
As the world shut down, international technology company NTT DATA Business Solutions attempted to remedy apprehensions by creating a digital teaching engine to help children learn, teachers teach, and parents homeschool.
Not only would the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Learning Helper assist students in improving reading and other skills, the new platform would also manage to meet the emotional needs of each child.
From its headquarters in Bielefeld, Germany, NTT DATA assists a variety of industries, including chemical, pharmaceutical, wholesale, and consumer products, always searching for new places to innovate.
The company also works closely with the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), drawing research from such disciplines as technology, media, science, art, and design.
“The possibilities of artificial intelligence fascinate us,” noted Thomas Nørmark NTT DATA’s global head of AI and robotics.
Previously, the company’s “digital human platform” allowed NTT DATA to develop avatars for receptionists, sales associates, shop floor assistants, and car vendors, among others.
Those experiences would prove invaluable in the development of the avatars that would both teach children and interact with them in a personalized way.
Turning to enterprise resource planning software leader SAP for its foundation, NTT DATA used a number of the solutions to make the AI Learning helper come to life: SAP Data Intelligence for both AI and Machine Learning (ML), SAP Analytics Cloud to amass data about individual students’ learning progress, and SAP Conversational AI to manage the conversations between Learning Helper and the students.
These allowed the platform to utilize AI specialties like body language detection, emotional feedback, micro expression – which registers facial expressions that sometimes last only 1/30th of a second – and summarization algorithms to create new phrases to relay information in a language every student could grasp.
Each screen would be the equivalent of a virtual buddy who could understand a pupil’s changing emotions – detecting whether he or she were frustrated or unmotivated – and patiently adjust to the situation.
At times, the Learning Helper would conclude, a child simply needed to engage in small talk for a few minutes before turning back to the lesson.
The innovation would provide much needed relief for parents and teachers who are not always able to exhibit the same type of sensitivity when they are dealing with so many other obligations.
Tracking for success
The app was deployed in January 2021, with the Danish municipality of Toender’s school district and a British hospital school becoming the first places to use the AI Learning Helper.
Students discovered that they could access the platform at any time on any device, and there was no limit on how long a session could last.
In addition to assisting pupils with vocabulary, pronunciation, and story comprehension, the avatar generated and answered questions.
Through classwork, as opposed to testing, the solution could track each child’s progress, communicating that information to parents and teachers, and come up with lessons tailored to areas where the student could improve.
Participating schools noted that estimated homeschooling costs decreased by 50%, leading to a 5% reduction in the overall budget.
For creating a personalized virtual helper to bring out student strengths and alleviate both loneliness and frustration, NTT DATA Business Solutions received a 2022 SAP Innovation Award – part of an annual ceremony rewarding organizations using SAP technologies to improve the world.
You can read all about what NTT DATA did to win this coveted award, and how, in their Innovation Awards pitch deck.
As developing nations gain greater access to the Internet and education becomes more democratized, the company plans to use the AI Learning Helper to teach thousands more.