How African schools are using cognitive systems to help shape the future of education

Veteran Journalist and Partner, StoryTK

As any veteran teacher will attest, students underperform at school for a variety of reasons. Some students are hampered by local economic conditions, others by specific individual circumstances. For example, perhaps a student is sitting too far from the teacher to comprehend the lesson. Or maybe the student is lacking educational support at home. Sometimes, a student simply missed a crucial session of class and hasn’t been able to catch up.

In Africa’s poorer schools, however, teachers must consider even more factors than these: Do students have enough books? Is the learning environment equipped with electric power and good sanitation? Such problems add an additional burden to teachers and students that can further hinder students’ ability to learn.

Dr. Komminist “Kommy” Weldemariam, a research scientist with IBM Research–Africa, believes that by deploying cognitive, mobile and analytics technologies in poor school districts, educators can create an early warning system that can help identify schools and students who are at particular risk of failing. Working with Kenya’s ministry of education and RTI International, a research institute that aims to overcome development challenges, Weldemariam and his team have launched an initiative in Mombasa, Kenya—the second most populous city in the country—that is the first of its kind. and his team are designing intelligent systems to capture data at more than 100 Kenyan schools. By recording everything from class size and grades to student health and safety, they hope to uncover patterns that will shed light on the reasons why students in some Kenyan schools perform well and students in others fall behind. By changing educational practices and environments in response to these insights, the Kenyan ministry of education hopes to be able to enhance the education prospects of current students.

In our latest technology and education podcast, listen as we focus on this project, discussing how the initiative could pave the way point to the future of education everywhere. And that’s only the beginning. Next month, in the second part of this two-part series on education, we’ll visit a school in Wallingford, Connecticut, to discover how a superintendent and an executive at one of the largest US school suppliers are collaborating with IBM to help provide personalized education.

Join us for this episode of the Wild Ducks podcast series, then tune in for a new episode on the last Thursday of every month. Subscribe on iTunes or SoundCloud to be notified about future episodes, and explore earlier episodes while you wait for the second half of this exciting series.