Nisha Rataria remembers the moment that she understood the power of technology to significantly improve a child’s learning and comprehension.
As a teacher at the public Vidhya Nagar Primary School in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, Rataria teaches students from across the spectrum – bright, struggling, poor and middle class. A few years ago, her school implemented an artificial-intelligence based education program called EnglishHelper that provides a suite of tools to help children learn to speak, read and write English. Many of her students, who she says could not even recognize the alphabet, could now read English with some confidence. By the end of the 2019-2020 school year, EnglishHelper and ReadToMe could be used by nearly 20 million students worldwide.
Far away, in Philadelphia, Rich Culatta is walking the floor at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) annual conference. Over the last twenty years, the ISTE conference has grown to become the largest education conference in the country – the ed tech equivalent of the Consumer Electronics Show, with a combination of large vendors like Microsoft and Cisco, lots of startups, and thousands of school district technology directors, computer science teachers and school administrators. This year’s conference in Philadelphia attracted 17,000 people and 600 corporate exhibitors with products and services for the classroom, after school, school administration and home.
It’s a pivotal time for the education technology sector and for school districts across America struggling to adapt ed tech, artificial intelligence and new models for blended learning. For the ed tech sector, the pressure of expectations is only exceeded by a track record of disappointment. Education technology companies have made great strides in building technology solutions to improve learning outcomes. There are now AI-driven learning programs that can be tailored to the individual student, analytics that provide important information to schools about their students’ performance and enterprise software solutions for the classroom and administration. Internationally, educators realized long ago that technology was the only means by which educational opportunities could be provided to nearly 1 billion young people within a generation.
And yet, the track record is mixed. There have been some great successes, such as Khan Academy, as well as the ubiquitous presence of Google Chromebooks and Google Docs across American schools. But most ed tech startups have struggled to scale. Few seems able to figure out how to jump from one school district to another quickly, let alone scale globally.
EnglishHelper was founded in 2010 by Dr. Venkat Srinivasan, a social entrepreneur, to create an artificial intelligence-based, multi-sensory technology platform that could be used to improve learning outcomes in English, reading, writing and other educational topics. Its leading product, ReadToMe, was launched in 100 government (public) schools in India in 2013. Spurred on by the encouraging results, the social enterprise has continued to grow in partnership with school districts around the world. And the end of the recently completed school year, EnglishHelper’s products were used by 2.5 million children, 50,000 teachers and 15,000 schools worldwide.[…]