How government school students are learning English with AI

By KTP Radhika

Highlights

Learning Matters, an ed-tech company based in Bangalore, is trying to fix this significant gap in school education with the help of AI and Natural Language Processing.

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As per the Annual Status of Education Report 2019, only 16 per cent of children in Class 1 in 26 surveyed rural districts can read the text at the prescribed level. Forty per cent of student cannot recognise letters. The report states that the lack of age-appropriate skills in the early years is alarming, and this can impact the entire education supply chain in India. A huge shortage of qualified, trained teachers (about 26 million worldwide) is also a significant challenge in our school education system. According to DISE data, 18 per cent teachers in India, in 2016-17, had no professional qualification in teaching. Many teachers lack basic proficiency in communicative English. However, over the past year, a couple of government-run corporation schools in Chennai are learning English in a different method. An AI-based virtual voice teacher helps them to increase their literacy levels while making learning fun and interactive.  

Learning Matters, an ed-tech company based in Bangalore, is trying to fix this significant gap in school education with the help of AI and Natural Language Processing. Founded in 2016 by G. Ramamoorthy, Gowri Mahesh and Saraswathy Ramamoorthy, the company has come up with Tara, an interactive, personalised teacher assistant. 

How does Tara work?

Tara - an NLP-powered, virtual voice teacher is a dynamic teacher assistant that works on Amazon’s Echo Dot, Google Home and smartphones. Based on the cloud, Tara uses Amazon’s hardware, speech-to-text and text-to-speech integrated with Learning matters’ proprietary content delivery methods for voice-based platforms. Tara can mimic a human teacher. This is done by listening, responding to the learner’s response, correction, and feedback. Tara also offers training to teachers.

The learner can choose a subject, and Tara begins the lesson by introducing the concept. She then explains the main concepts, keywords and finally, assess the learner’s understanding through various types of exercises and tests. When the student makes a mistake, Tara corrects and explains what the mistake was. Students can also request Tara to repeat parts of a lesson or exercises. When a learner completes one lesson, they move on to the next.

“Tara is a simple voice-assisted solution. All that the learner needs is a voice-assisted device containing the learning modules,” says Saraswathy Ramamoorthy who is also the CMO of the company. “Since she is a machine, she is a non-judgemental and student-friendly teacher,” she says. The system can support English and Indian languages.

Tara in use at Chennai Corporation Schools, CIT Nagar, Chennai

Helping government schools

“Tara has been deployed for over a year in various institutions and organisations and is teaching communicative English to both students and adults,” says Saraswathy. The solution is assisting teachers and students in a few Chennai corporation schools and a few private, affordable schools in Kumbakonam and Madurai. Several Non-Government Organisations that provide education to underprivileged children in Tamil Nadu are also getting assistance from this AI-based voice assistant to train their teachers. The company has signed an MoU with Govt of Karnataka to provide educational solutions in the districts of Yadgir and Raichur and also ave pitched Tara to MHRD, Govt of India for a project across schools in Chandigarh. The company is also in talks with a few other NGOs in Pune and Nasik.

Tara can teach anyone, anything, anytime and no special training is required to use the tool. “Teachers are taught how to use Tara with an individual, small group and a large group of students in a single session. There is no complex handling or management to be taught. With simple voice commands, any learner can interact with the system,” says Saraswathy. “The underlying code, workflow and the skill generator tool can be adapted to just any academic subject and content. Improvisations have already been implemented during the inception,”. Originally the tool is developed for communicative English. However, pilots are in progress for teaching science.

About the author

KTP Radhika

KTP Radhika writes on business and technology. She has worked with Network 18 Group, The Indian Express Group and Deccan Chronicle. Currently, she is a consultant writer with Business Today and NASSCOM. Her work was shortlisted for the Shriram Awards for the year 2019.

Image by AkshayaPatra Foundation from Pixabay 

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