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Transforming Education in Africa: The Role of Generative AI and Adaptive Learning in Scaling Quality Learning

Laura Kakon, Group Chief Growth and Strategy Officer, Honoris United Universities

One year has passed since the introduction of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, elevating Artificial Intelligence (AI) and, more specifically, Generative AI, to commonplace discussions and widespread integration across various industries. In the dynamic landscape of the evolving workforce, higher education faces the imperative to leverage the capabilities of technology and embrace the advancements in Generative AI to expand access to high-quality education.

Generative AI unfolds numerous possibilities for higher education institutions to revolutionize, enrich, and reshape their operations. Ranging from personalized learning and streamlined content generation to research capabilities, smart tutoring, and ongoing professional development for educators, this emerging realm of Generative AI stands poised to transform the educational landscape in Africa. Its potential impact extends to supporting both learners and educators, equipping graduates with the skills needed for a successful transition into the workforce. This is particularly significant in a continent grappling with the world’s lowest gross tertiary enrolment ratios (GER) at just 12%, in stark contrast to 32% in Asia and 53% in South America (LEK).

Harnessing the advantages of AI to enhance teaching and learning experiences will refine pedagogical strategies, leading to improved learner outcomes and, ultimately, facilitating the provision of quality education on a broader scale.

Addressing the distinctive needs of diverse learners whilst empowering educators with valuable insights, Generative AI also supports the efficient development of high-quality learning material, proving a shift towards an education system that is accessible, inclusive, and high-quality. Navigating the intricacies of the 21st century, education and technology serve as a testament to shaping a brighter future for generations to come.

An illustration of AI’s impact on education is personalized, or adaptive, learning. Adaptive learning utilizes a range of techniques, sciences, and technologies to tailor the student experience based on factors such as interests, learning pace, and individual strengths and challenges. This approach aims to cater to the unique needs of every student.

As the first and largest network of private higher education institutions in Africa, Honoris United Universities began a strategic partnership with a leading EdTech to pioneer an AI-generated course spanning an entire semester, specifically designed for our students. This adaptive learning course is finely tuned for an African context, with a focus on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I), and Work Ethics.

At the core of this initiative lies a Generative AI Engine, founded on a proprietary Large Language Model (LLM). This deep learning algorithm holds the capability to summarize, translate, predict, and generate text, conveying ideas and concepts effectively. Prominent LLMs such as ChatGPT, Google Bard, and Cohere are rapidly gaining prominence in this domain. This engine plays a pivotal role in curating learning materials specifically tailored to each nano-learning objective within the course.

Subject Matter Experts actively engage in reviewing and providing feedback to the system, ensuring that the human expert remains an integral part of the verification process at every stage. By harnessing the extensive capabilities of Generative AI, educators can expedite the creation of diverse and contextually relevant content on a large scale, significantly reducing costs and addressing the challenge of resource constraints.

After the formulation of course content, our adaptive learning platform takes center stage in the delivery process. This platform customizes the learning trajectory for each learner, taking into account their unique pace, progress, and comprehension level. The outcome is a personalized learning experience that significantly elevates learner proficiency and engagement, shaping pathways to foster long-term memory activation and enabling a profound understanding of complex concepts.

By providing real-time insights into each learner’s journey, educators acquire valuable information to enhance learning design, implementation, and assessment. The transformative influence of AI in supporting educators builds a more dynamic and responsive teaching environment, catering effectively to diverse student profiles.

In our exploration of AI in higher education, it is imperative to prioritize ethics and safety. Data governance should serve as the foundational pillar for any organization embarking on its AI journey, encompassing principles of ethics, privacy, compliance, transparency, bias mitigation, and security. The essence of every AI project lies in the quality of its data—the essential raw material for model training—and the human role in the process. A robust data framework should meticulously assess data cleansing, integrity, and relevance to ensure that all data-driven decisions and models are built on a solid and reliable foundation. Education providers should foster a data-driven culture by promoting knowledge-sharing and upskilling, including training employees at all levels to comprehend the impact of data quality on AI outcomes, compliance with privacy regulations, and ethical considerations.

The synergy between Generative AI and Adaptive Learning systems holds the potential to redefine education in Africa. Amid the challenges of delivering quality education to a diverse and extensive population, this integration emerges as a beacon of hope. Personalized, technology-driven learning is poised to become the standard, laying the groundwork for educators and policymakers to embrace transformative technologies and enhance positive education for all.

The Honoris abstract, ‘Enhancing Quality Education at Scale through Generative AI and Personalized Learning through Adaptive Systems: A Case Study on UN SDGs, DE&I, and Work Ethics in an African Context’ was accepted by the Scientific Committee of the CDIO, to be presented at the 20th International CDIO Conference under the theme ‘“Engineering Education in the Era Of AI”, taking place at Honoris institution ESPRIT, Tunisia in June 2024.

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