AI Education System: What Can We Expect and Hope for in Croatia?

Total Croatia News

October 29, 2019 – The topic of AI has become very popular recently, both in academic papers and in popular media. This topic is discussed from many different viewpoints and in different areas.  What everybody seems to agree on is that the field of AI has changed significantly in the past couple of years and will likely continue to do so. During the AI conferences I attended as a participant or a lecturer, I identified an area of the Education System as one very interesting for the application of AI. To estimate if this out of many areas could make the most significant impact, if upgraded by AI, I asked a question: Do we have a crisis in education? 

There are some facts regarding the school system that cannot be ignored: Even after several years in school, millions of children cannot read, write, or do basic math. This learning crisis is widening social gaps instead of narrowing them. Young students who are already disadvantaged by poverty, conflict, gender, or disability reach young adulthood without even the most basic life skills. Worldwide numbers are staggering – out of around 650 million children that are in primary school, 130 million didn’t learn the basics, and an additional 120 million didn’t complete four years of primary school.  In this context, AI-based educations could be a solution to social and economic problems. 

So on one side, we have very bold predictions of widespread future use of AI – for example, 7 out of 10 companies plan to replace some of the positions with technological solutions. On the other side, we have data about investments in AI in different sectors. And unlike Retail, Media, Automotive or Health areas, in which investments are significant, an area of education is lagging with a shallow level of investments, together with Telecommunication, Travel, Tourism, etc. In addition, regardless of the level of investments, every area has a level of adaptation of AI, where the biggest adoption is among strong digital adopters. An area of Education is in this segment also in the group of low adopters. 

What can we hope for in case this investment/adoption issue changes for the best? More than a few challenges could be connected with the education solutions: promoting a fair and knowledge-based society, promoting lifelong learning (which is promoting), education that is equally available for everyone, and education that is accessible and global, to name a few.  

Those challenges are recognized on the political level, at least nominally. UNESCO states that “there is no doubt that AI will revolutionize the delivery and management of education and learning” and point out that we will need a dynamic review of how AI will transform teacher’s roles. Teachers are already facing some challenges explicitly connected to their roles: moving from a knowledge owner approach to a knowledge self-search and learn guide approach, how to use collective work and distance-based educational methods or to produce, re-use and share educational resources. In general, AI is expected to assist them in the future, both in student teaching and student support, but also in the field of teacher support and system support. 

With a large amount of data that is or will be available and with proper AI software, education institutions and teachers will be able to: 

do behavioral-based analysis to know the speed and depth of student learning; 

discover the student’s preferences and reuse that data to improve education & technology

discover emotions and feelings about education and the technology use

give trainers more accurate data about students and their learning processes

show students their own learning data to improve self-direct learning

discover the further learning needs of the students based on their behavior

This could be very important in planning our next steps. If we define our best teachers, as somebody with the nuanced understanding of students and also an appreciation for both content and the context in which it is delivered, it is clear that to build an intelligent and personalized system that can scale to every student, Student Intelligence and Content Intelligence is needed.

Possibly the biggest advantage of AI use could be for the students with problems (remember those 250 million children from the beginning of the article?). Students all learn differently, and a good teacher must attempt to deliver lessons in a way that resonates with every child in the classroom. Some students may have behavioral or psychological problems that inhibit or complicate that process. Others may have parents who are not involved enough in their education. Effective teachers must be able to navigate these many hurdles while satisfying often-changing curriculum requirements. 

Mid-term benefits for the students, and teachers could be education at any time, education platform adapted to their personal needs, virtual mentors, automatic curriculum formation, ability to detect weakness much better and deeper involvement into the education process. 

One USA college already created an AI teaching assistant and students didn’t recognize it was not a human. 

Considering all that, and current plans to advance AI agenda on the EU level, it seems it would be the right time for Croatia to address this potential, or even (let’s be optimistic) lead those changes on the EU political level. What needs to be defined and followed by regulations is the following:

  1. Comprehensive public policy on AI for sustainable development
  2. Ensuring inclusion and equity in AI in education
  3. Preparing teachers for AI-powered education and developing AI to understand education

In the best-case scenario with proper use of AI in education we could be able to achieve:

  1. Personalization – remedial students, advanced students, ESL students and the disabled all need to have the same access to learning. AI systems easily adapt to each student’s individual learning needs and can target students with teaching instructions based on their strengths and weaknesses
  2. Course Improvement – Teachers may not always be aware of gaps in their lectures and educational materials that can leave students confused about certain concepts. Artificial intelligence offers a way to solve that problem. (Coursera, a massive open online course provider, is already putting this into practice. When a large number of students are found to submit the wrong answer to a homework assignment, the system alerts the teacher and gives future students a customized message that offers hints to the correct answer.) 
  3. Trial and Error Learning made easier – Trial and error is a critical part of learning, but for many students, the idea of failing, or even not knowing the answer, is paralyzing. Some simply don’t like being put on the spot in front of their peers or authority figures like a teacher. An intelligent computer system, designed to help students learn, is a much less daunting way to deal with trial and error. Artificial intelligence could offer students a way to experiment and learn in a relatively judgment-free environment, especially when AI tutors can offer solutions for improvement.

What have we done so far? Ratko Mutavdzic stated in one interview that the AI community in Croatia gathered 4500 people. We have interesting conferences on the topic of AI – , but nothing significant connected specifically with education. 

The second question that was raised by the FutureHR company ( was about the current status and level of preparation of our teachers and professors since that is recognized as one obvious factor for future adoption.  Maybe it could be interesting to review some of the survey data, and put it in the context of current negotiations between teachers and the government, where the only topic is their salaries, but not many other factors that are influencing the future of our education in the long term.

  1. Around 40% of our education workers (elementary, and high school professors and school directors) state that they have no, or below average general knowledge about the development of AI. An additional 32 percent estimate that they have some knowledge about it. Only 1% is very familiar with the topic and closely monitoring the latest developments.
  2. On the question of familiarity with any AI tools that could be used in education, 66% state that they have no or below-average knowledge/awareness of them.
  3. As expected, similar to the low level of basic familiarity with the AI tools, 85% state that they don’t use any AI or AI connected tools at all.
  4. On the question if the education workers should be educated themselves on the topic of AI – 62% agree that they should be, 4% state they shouldn’t be, and 33% are not sure.
  5. And lastly, one very interesting detail – when asked about how many of them applied for any Coursera seminars, answers were: 49% didn’t try Coursera, 20% did use it, and an incredible 31% don’t even know what MOOCs (Mass open online courses) are!

We can only assume that this selected sample is, more or less, representing the average person in Croatia, and that all of us, except the mentioned 4500 people in the AI community, should be educated at least on the basics of the AI and the changes it will inevitably bring. It is encouraging to see that HUP (Croatian Employer’s Association) created a document called “Potencijal umjetne inteligencije za Hrvatsku” and that the Ministry of Economy, Entrepreneurship and Crafts is also working on some strategies and recommendations, but those are only the first steps. 

Final quote: “We’re headed for a world where you’re either going to be able to write algorithms … or be replaced by algorithms.”  Ray Dalio.

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