Sunday, 15 December, 2019
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OPINION

Tech Cuts Teachers' Burden



Barry He

The issue of marking homework is a time-keeping black hole for teachers around the world who face a high-pressure working environment. The task of going through each student's individual papers one-by-one takes away time better spent on quality teaching, which could benefit students more. 
This is an issue which holds true especially for China. With over 200 million school children, the management of education and its resource allocation are serious issues which require modern solutions. The time and resources teachers put into marking homework has become an educational issue which is now recognised internationally at the highest levels of policy decision-making.
Taking the entire homework process online is one way to solve this issue. Virtual learning environments with online digital learning tools use the internet as a platform to disseminate learning materials, exercises and feedback. Typically, the curriculum is segmented and laid out in a manner which can be assigned and assessed electronically, making the checking of student progress much easier and faster. Since their widespread adoption from early 2013, such technologies are gradually replacing more conservative approaches which tend to take up more time, manpower and resources.
New and innovative practices such as voice notes also mean that teachers can save a significant amount of time giving feedback on homework. This can also save students' time otherwise spent on deciphering a teacher's oftentimes illegible handwriting. With voice notes, students can listen to their teachers' feedback remotely and at anytime, which can further reduce the time spent on marking and increase quality time in the classroom instead. A task which could otherwise take several hours may now only take as little as half an hour. 
A questionnaire carried out by the South China Morning Post found that 25 per cent of Chinese schools polled used some form of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to aid marking. Software apps such as the Beijing-developed Xiaoyuan Kousuan can reportedly mark up to 70 million homework and test scripts a day, thereby helping to overcome a problem otherwise hindered by the lack of manpower.
At the moment, the capability of such software is still limited to basic arithmetic problems, however this could improve in the future. An integral principle of AI and machine learning is that the more feedback and quality data an algorithm receives, the better it can fine-tune its decision-making and improve accuracy.
"By checking nearly 100 million problems every day, we have developed a deep understanding of the kinds of mistakes students make when faced with certain problems," said Li Xin, co-founder of education startup Yuanfudao in a recent interview. "The data gathered through the app can serve as a pillar for us to provide better online education courses."
Technology and especially AI, as it improves over time, will no doubt continue to become more popular in the Chinese education system. Born out of necessity, the way in which students are taught may start to look very different over the course of the next few years. AI, which is intuitive enough to be able to mark more complicated homework such as essays and creative projects, may be deployed further along the horizon too. But in order for children to receive the full value of a well-rounded education, it is important that teachers are stress-free and do not lose their unique human connection with their students. 
China.org.cn  

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