Nesta's Joysy John

Where do we see AI playing a role in education, both the current state and the future?

We believe that it's about solving real challenges in education, for learners, for teachers, and for the system itself. Just as we expect students to learn and improve, we expect the education system to change, by using emerging technologies that can address some of the key challenges.

As you would have probably heard, we have announced a partnership with the Department for Education on a £4.6 million new fund looking at bringing innovation into education technology, and addressing four specific challenges: formative assessment, essay marketing, parental engagement, and timetabling.

We see the future of AI education where teachers, and learners, and parents are really working together with the EdTech company, with government, and with researchers to identify: what products work, where and why.

We are investing into building a testbed to build the evidence base, and really supporting EdTech companies to grow and improve their products. But also building capacity within the education sector, with schools and colleges, to test these technologies in a real-world setting.

Increasing productivity, cost saving, and improving the learner experience

Reducing Teacher Workloads

What we want to achieve with this EdTech Innovation Fund is helping reduce teacher workloads, so there is an efficiency angle. Also know that there are huge teacher shortages because of workload and stress.

If we can use technology to make their lives easier, so they can actually focus on teaching and not on the admin that they need to do.

Learner Outcomes

It's also around improving learner outcomes, so rather than a one size fits all, it's:

  • How do you use technology to customize feedback?
  • How do you help kids progress at a different pace based on their strengths and weaknesses, and how they respond to questions?
  • How do you improve parental engagement?

So, depending on the type of area there are different goals, but ultimately, it's about improving learner outcomes.

What can education learn from the rollouts of AI globally, and across other industries?

I think if you look at different sectors AI has played a huge role when it comes to financial services, or defence, or even health.

1. Lack of research

I think education has lagged behind, due to a number of reasons, mainly due to the funding. It receives very little funding for AI in education for R&D, and for building products that can scale.

2. Complexity

Secondly education is very complex. It has a highly fragmented environment, with multiple schools and colleges with no single procurement.

3. Funding pressure

And thirdly it's an area where there are huge funding pressures on schools and colleges.

Until and unless the cost benefit is really made clear, schools and colleges are less likely to invest in this technology.

Government support


There is leadership needed from government to really support the AI in education sector:

  1. Upstream Funding: Through both upstream funding for R&D to create new products that meet the challenges and needs for users or the learners, as well as teachers.
  2. Downstream Funding: But also, downstream support to really help those products that are doing well and have evidence that this is working.

Commercial and government funded models coming together to drive innovation in education

In the future the private sector and government need to work more closely together to support innovation, both at the early stage, but also finding out what other things there are working.

A lot of times EdTech companies might not have the resources to invest in their evidence. But government plays a role, DFID is investing 20 million into an EdTech Hub around innovation, evidence and engagement.

If similar things were done in the UK, where government is taking that leading role, and helping build that evidence base, then we can bring in the investor network, as well as private companies, to invest in to EdTech that will help address some of the challenges, but also scale solutions that actually work.

Joysy John, Director for Education, Nesta

About Nesta: The global innovation foundation, where we bring bold ideas to life, to change the world for better.

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