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Century Tech, Eton pioneers classroom AI to help students improve punctuation and grammar

The programme 'feeds back to the teacher a detailed picture not only of what a pupil does or doesn’t know but also data on study habits'

Since it was founded by King Henry VI in 1440, Eton College has been regarded as a bastion of tradition. But the £42,500-a-year boarding school is now pioneering the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the classroom to help students perfect their spelling, punctuation and grammar. Pupils in their first year at the Eton, aged 13 and 14, are asked a series of questions using an online programme developed by the company Century Tech, which is then able to analyse their strengths and weaknesses. Jonnie Noakes, Eton’s director of teaching and learning, said the software is able to gather more data on students’ learning abilities than “a teacher can collect in a whole year of teaching a class”. He added that the programme then “feeds back to the teacher a detailed picture not only of what a pupil does or doesn’t know, but also information about their study habits, like how long they spent on questions, and their performance measured against a class or school cohort.” Eton College, which pays around £3,200 per year for the software, is among a handful of early adopters of the use of AI in education. Mr Noakes explained that while AI “can’t do everything teachers can” it can do “specific tasks much faster and much better than any teacher”. He added: “While Eton values traditional forms of academic learning and scholarship, we are also very interested in trialling and using innovations. "One of the most promising and exciting of these is the application of AI in education, which looks set to offer schools both challenges and opportunities. "If educators can stay ahead of these developments and help to shape them, there’s a real chance that in future we shall be able to blend what the human mind does best – including creativity, emotionally-informed insight, global intelligence, appreciation of beauty, humour and metaphor – with the astonishing power of what AI can do so much better than the human mind." Century Tech developed a programme which allows students to be given personalised lessons, where they are given different questions to answer depending on their ability and speed. The information is fed back to their teacher who is given intricate details about their pupils' progress. Priya Lakhani OBE, founder and chief executive of Century Tech, said that she offered the software for free to any schools who were forced to close during lockdowns this year.

A private school chief has previously suggested that exams could be replaced by AI. Mike Buchanan, executive director of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), said last year that GCSEs can be a “very dry diet” for some students. He said elite private schools could trial new technologies to see what works, and then the model could be rolled out nationally. “There are a dozen HMC schools using AI systems and more that are seriously looking at it,” he said. “And there are dozens of schools around the world doing it.”