Sir David Davis and Robert Halfon MP write in The Times on AI teaching and social mobility


As published in The Times:

The prime minister has rightly put levelling up at the heart of his government’s agenda. Yet if this is to succeed, then we must also focus on restoring social mobility. We have one of the poorest rates of social mobility in the developed world, ranking 21st on the Global Social Mobility Index. By the age of 11, only 51 per cent of our disadvantaged pupils reach the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics, compared with 71 per cent of all other pupils.

By 16, the gap is entrenched. Disadvantaged pupils are 16 months behind their better-off peers. Only 25 per cent of disadvantaged pupils get a good pass in GCSE English or maths — half that of their more prosperous peers. What we see as pupils failing in the system is in truth the system failing those pupils. As we recover from Covid, there is an opportunity for change. To ensure disadvantaged pupils have a chance to climb the education ladder of opportunity, we should be augmenting teaching with artificial intelligence (AI).

AI provides children with a state-of-the-art personal tutor at their desk every minute, at school and at home. Imagine re-engineering our classrooms so that every child starts their lesson watching the best lecturer in the world on that subject, whether it is physics or history. They then do tests on their tablets, interspersed with micro-nuggets of teaching on screen by the AI software.

Through detailed personal observation and big data analysis, AI measures how well a pupil learns the subject and tailors teaching to correct failures. Importantly, the AI does not just determine that they have, say, got the thermodynamics answer wrong but also assesses why. It then teaches a micro-lesson to correct the exact weakness. Even the most brilliant teacher has neither the time nor the data to do this.

The AI stops the weakest from falling behind, significantly improves average performance and releases the strongest pupils to achieve their best. Approaches like this can raise the average student by an astonishing whole grade in every subject.

This is something global competitors are already doing. China, for example, has invested substantially in AI in education. But we also have world leaders here in the UK. Schools ranging from Eton to some forward-looking state schools already use British AI technology.

The technology is ready, and the opportunity is there for the taking. Using AI tools, we can prevent the weakest from falling irretrievably behind, and ensure that the brightest achieve their best potential, irrespective of poverty of their origin or bleakness of their background.