A New Engine for Human Learning and Growth (SHRUTI RAJAGOPALAN, 3/11/24, Project Syndicate)

AI already shows great promise. India’s education system is in crisis. Over half of fifth graders cannot read at a second-grade level, and merely a quarter can manage simple division. If these students had a personalized curriculum – taught in their native dialect, without caste-based or economic discrimination – they could catch up. While poor incentives for educators, state-level politics, bad curricula, and socioeconomic circumstances have stood in the way of this solution, AI could make such obstacles surmountable.

Imagine an AI tutor interacting with a student from India’s poorest state, Bihar, where learning scores are abysmal, in her native Maithili dialect. It would evaluate homework through images, correct pronunciation, teach other languages, integrate numeracy through games, and offer endless, patient repetition. The same approach also could be used to offer teacher training at scale, with large language models (LLMs), like the one that powers ChatGPT, aiding curriculum development in India’s 100-plus languages and more than 10,000 dialects, all at low cost.

These AI tutors will be affordable, partly because of India’s huge market. One in three Indian students already pays for private tutoring, and well before the recent AI breakthroughs, Indians dominated YouTube, where education playlists help students master various state examinations. All the data these students provide will train models for foundational-learning tutors that can be deployed across the Global South, where students face similar problems.