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Can technology narrow the equity gap in language education?

Technology is changing the way that we approach education. Increased globalisation and digitalisation mean the world is more connected now than ever before. This has had a specific impact on language learning, especially English language learning, and is among the eight areas of interest unpacked by British Council in The Future of English: Global Perspectives.

Photo: British Council

"Not all teachers and learners are able to benefit from the potential value of using a wide range of technology either in or outside the classroom"

What are the challenges presented by the use of technology in education?

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic many of us are now well versed in the challenges associated with the use of technology in education. However, globally there is great diversity in access to resources and adequate infrastructure. Not all teachers and learners are able to benefit from the potential value of using a wide range of technology either in or outside the classroom.

In regions where resourcing may be less of an issue, other challenges remain. The digital literacy of not only students, but also teachers, is important to the success of implementing the use of technology in the classroom.

These issues alone highlight that each country has a specific digital ecosystem with its own needs and abilities. Catering to such a diverse range of capabilities is something that we are yet to find a solution for.

Is artificial intelligence a help or a hindrance?

Innovations in artificial intelligence have created new ways to approach language learning, with higher education students already taking advantage of recent advancements. Educators are having to take this into consideration, but most have had limited support and training to improve digital literacy and knowing how and when to use AI in the classroom.

This is coupled with the ability of AI itself. British Council will soon be publishing a report on the impact of AI on English language teaching and learning. The report finds that there is an increasing understanding of the biases of AI, particularly in relation to ChatGPT. However, there is still little awareness of the biases in and limitations of other AI systems. Both teachers and learners need to develop skills to be able to critique AI outputs, positioning AI as a peer and a collaborator rather than a teacher.

Benefits of AI in language learning

Despite these challenges, technology can be beneficial. Our new report finds that the productive skills of speaking and writing were the focus of most uses of technology, with reading present but far less, and listening not present at all. Sub skill focus was minimal across the skills, but pronunciation was present.

Moreover, AI can provide opportunities for personalisation and collaboration. It can be used as a conversational partner, which is shown to be positive. Students can practise spoken English and improve conversational skills in and outside the classrooms where this may have previously been difficult. AI also provides an opportunity for self-regulation, reducing anxiety and the fear of ‘losing face’ and making mistakes.

The report Artificial intelligence and English language teaching: Preparing for the future will be published very soon!

Can technology narrow the equity gap in language education? – Join the webinar

Join our webinar on Thursday 30 November, 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. GMT. Our panel of experts will be discussing four broad themes of: hopes and aspirations, fears and risks, evidence, and needs on the ground (and if and how AI responds to these).

About the author: This is a sponsored article from British Council.

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