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How Digital Teachers Can Make Education Better

Earlier this month my family and I made a memorable journey to a fishing village in Cambodia. While there we were lucky to spend some time at a local school with a group of sixth grade children who had taken a rowboat to get to class. Unfortunately, their teacher was missing that day – because many teachers there are forced to work second jobs to make ends meet. So the kids show up to class and try to work alone. Some days they have a teacher, and some days they don’t.

In New Zealand this week, Auckland energy company Vector teamed up with AI company Soul Machines to launch a digital avatar named Will who teaches children about energy use. He is interactive, human like and can even react to students answers. Watching the demo video for the technology, I wasn’t scared about how those kids learning from Will might see the future. They still had human teachers too.

Instead, I was thinking of those hopeful faces at that school in Cambodia and wondering what it would be like if they could have a substitute like Will to teach them on those days when their teacher doesn’t make it. The truth is, maybe we spend a little too much time worrying about the well being of kids who learn from technology and not enough worrying about the ones who show up to school every day unsure of whether they will have a teacher at all.

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