Let’s say you’re in primary school and your school is forced to close due to a Pandemic. Let’s say you don’t have an Internet connection for e-Learning and the only way you can learn is to turn on your television and watch a teacher giving a lecture. What do you think the chances are that you’re going to get a good education?
That’s exactly what happened in Sri Lanka and many other countries around the world that struggle with the “Digital Divide;” where a significant portion of the population has no access to Internet service. Living in Sri Lanka in 2020 when the Pandemic began, Thiloshon “Shon” Nagarajah, saw his own cousins and their friends suffering from Broadcast education with many even dropping out. Shon was fortunate to be accepted at University of Southern California and left Sri Lanka to pursue his higher education goals, but the memory of the students left behind remained vivid in his mind.
As a computer engineering student with an interest in AI, Shon had seen many posts about contests and challenges open to students. When the IBM Build-a-Bot Challenge appeared, with its emphasis on solving social problems, he thought that IBM RPA might just offer a way to improve the educational experience back home.
“Education is a social experience and should be interactive,” he said. “Without that, learning is very difficult.” Knowing that most families have access to a Smart Phone, even if they don’t have an Internet connection, he began to work out a way to help students communicate with the teacher on television. The solution he built and submitted, called TVEd, uses IBM RPA to create a feature-rich chatbot that leverages information search, a knowledge base, and social media voting technology that enables students to vote on and prioritize questions to present to the teacher live.
Shon created a short video demonstration of TVEd, which begins with some sobering statistics about education for developing countries like Sri Lanka...
When the judges were done reviewing all the submissions for the IBM Build-a-Bot Challenge, TVEd was awarded Second Place and a prize of $5,000. For the video series, “Think Outside The Bot,” I spoke with Shon about the Contest, his experience learning and using IBM RPA, and what he thinks might be the next step for TVEd.
Just before we concluded our conversation, Shon mentioned that he and two other students had recently won first place in the 2021 IBM Call For Code partnership with Clinton Global Initiative to improve education around the world. Their winning application, called Simulated Interactive Teaching (SIT), allows students to access online lectures with up to 98 percent less Internet. The app works by reducing the sizes of packages required for download and upload to partake in online learning.
Clearly, Shon is on a roll. He is applying new technologies to help solve the Digital Divide and improve education for millions around the world. We wish him much success with both these applications as he seeks ways to get them funded and deployed where they can have the most impact.