For those children who have access to it, private tuition provides an opportunity for valuable educational development over and above the opportunities provided by formal education.
This opportunity translates to concrete benefits, which range from feeling more confident in one’s writing ability after some intensive one-to-one support, all the way to doing better in one’s GCSEs or other formal exams, which in turn may open the door to additional pathways in the future.
Intelligent Tutoring Systems have the potential to disrupt the shadow education system
But as this channel of opportunity is disproportionately accessed by more affluent young people, the benefits of private tuition are not distributed equally throughout society.
Our attention must hence turn to finding a means of extending the benefits of private tuition to everyone.
At first glance, the solution seems obvious. Surely, we just need to ensure that all learners can access private tuition. The current problematic situation is that some learners benefit from individualised support from a private tutor but others don’t; it stands to reason that the ideal situation is for all people to benefit from this same service.
This is almost certainly correct. The ideal solution would be to enable universal access to one-to-one tuition from a private tutor.
But any achievable version of this ideal would still struggle to equalise opportunity within the shadow education system.
An innovative solution is needed to equalise access to the benefits that are currently achieved through private tuition. Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITSs) are the best candidates.
The authoritative report, Intelligence Unleashed: An Argument for AI in Education cogently makes the case that ITSs could enable every single learner to benefit from ‘an intelligent, personal tutor’.
The report explains that ITSs utilise artificial intelligence to ‘simulate one-to-one human tutoring’ by tailoring learning activities to individual learners’ needs, and by supporting learners with feedback, as and when it is needed.
As discussed in Intelligence Unleashed, the learning activities mentioned above could include videos, games or even VR-based experiences.
Just like a human tutor, an ITS might be able to judge what difficulty level each task should be set at and what type of activity each student would respond best to.
And if a learner needed support with a particular question, problem or activity, the ITS may well be able to provide it.
For instance, Aida, an app created by Pearson, which provides adaptive support with calculus, can analyse students’ working out ‘line by line’.
This allows for pinpointed feedback and support, and enables students to be ‘[guided] through the solution’.
ITSs have the potential to disrupt the shadow education system. They are affordable, they can be accessed at whatever time and for however long a learner wishes, and they can deliver high-quality provision.
Each of these factors are necessary ingredients for combatting social immobility.
Tom Moule is the author of: Cracking Social Mobility: How AI and Other Innovations Can Help to Level the Playing Field, published by University of Buckingham Press