How can Generative AI contribute to improving quality education and research to impact the development of Cameroon?
October 23, 2023
Serges-Roberteau Tchoffo, Head of Experimentation & David Kenfack, Social Entrepreneur
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”, said Nelson Mandela in one of his speeches (July 16, 2003). As the first South African black president, he understood with his own life experience that his strong education, was what empowered him to influence so much change in his country. Indeed, education has proven to be a very important weapon in building strong nations. For this reason, the United Nations has dedicated an SDG to the promotion of quality education (SDG 4). Among the many mechanisms and strategies put in place to achieve this SDG4, generative AI is becoming an increasingly important tool in Cameroon. This blog captures some prospective reflections on how Generative AI can improve quality education and research after several engagements with David Kenfack, a social entrepreneur working on AI.
An Overview of Generative AI
According to the MIT Professional Education, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ability of computers to imitate cognitive human functions such as learning and problem-solving. The same source mentions Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning as among the top 5 Disruptive technologies that are changing the world. Nowadays, when we talk about Artificial Intelligence, Generative AI quickly springs to mind, because this sub-field of AI is growing in power, since the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022. In fact, Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) is defined as a category of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that generate new outputs based on the data they have been trained on, as stated by the World Economic Forum. Generative AI is a world technological advance that is opening new perspectives in many fields, including education and research.
Generative AI is changing how people do common things in the field of education and research, like learning or conducting assessments. So, it differs from usual working methods in that Generative AI is revolutionizing the way we learn, research, and produce content. It's a complete break with the way things are usually done. Considerably, AI will also impact the future of work, as some jobs will disappear, but the good news is that many others will appear. So, a country like Cameroon needs to jump on this innovation bandwagon through education and research. According to Accenture, cited by the World Economic Forum, 40% of working hours across industries can be impacted by Large Language Models (a type of AI). Unfortunately, due to some policies, a certain number of countries still put restrictions on the use of some famous Generative AI platforms like ChatGPT 4. However, some local innovators have worked to develop platforms that are a little more personalized and adapted to their context, such as DASTUDY.
Presentation of DASTUDY: a Cameroonian AI type platform
DASTUDY, (an AI-type platform) is a local innovation developed by a young Cameroonian entrepreneur David Kenfack. This platform is one where people can learn new skills, share their content, get answers to their questions based on local Cameroonian socio-cultural realities and also get help with their daily tasks (administrative writing, analysis, translation, etc.). DASTUDY is a platform for knowledge sharing between learners and professionals (sharing of documents, exercises, and software) in academic, professional, and cultural fields. It also features a virtual assistant, TSAF, powered by Generative AI designed by this young Cameroonian start-up. Led by David Kenfack, this platform responds to the need to strengthen local skills but also to give visibility to local content producers.
Image 1: an overview of the AI of DASTUDY
How could generative AI impact the education and research field in Cameroon ?
To achieve SDG 4 on quality education and especially its target 4.6 (by 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy), we need innovative tools and approaches. Therefore, emergent technologies like Generative AI, when rightly used can help accelerate the achievement of SGD 4 in developing countries like Cameroon. This reflection emanates from some collective intelligence analyses, and test sessions with the DASTUDY platform. We therefore think that:
Generative AI can be used to personalize learning
In Cameroon, huge disparities exist in terms of study access tools and amenities meant to provide and facilitate access to quality education for students in different regions of the country. The impact of this gap is visible in students’ low research capacities, despite their will to do so, which significantly affects their examination results.
According to the Cameroon 2019 Statistical Yearbook, access in secondary school to knowledge-acquisition amenities such as computers, internet connections and libraries is highly unequal between metropolitan regions such as the Centre and Littoral and remote regions such as the East and Far North.
Table 1: Access to certain amenities by amenity type of 04 regions in 2018 /2019 in secondary schools
One of the main advantages of Generative AI in education is its ability to personalize learning according to the context of the learner. In this perspective, Generative AI can analyze the needs, constraints, and preferences of each student, and offer content and exercises tailored to their specific needs and context. This can enable Cameroonian students to benefit from individualized learning and enhanced research capacities, thereby promoting their academic success. On the other hand, Generative AI offers an opportunity for young Cameroonians to reconnect with their cultures in the field of education. Using this technology, educational resources can be created and customized to reflect the diverse cultures of the country. Generative AI systems can analyze and understand the cultural, linguistic, and historical specificities of different communities, providing contextualized and relevant educational content. By focusing on the preservation and enhancement of local traditions, languages, and histories. So, Generative AI can help to strengthen the Cameroonian cultural identity and promote inclusive and authentic learning experiences.
Generative AI can be used to create and update educational content
Indeed, in Cameroon's education system, we have often had the experience of teachers using the same didactic content for many years without updating it. However, in today's fast-moving world, learners need to keep abreast of the latest developments in various disciplines. Teachers will be able to use this technology to generate high-quality course materials, exercises, and assessments, based on data provided by models trained with billions of high-quality data items from the Internet. This saves time and provides up-to-date teaching resources tailored to the needs of Cameroonian students. In addition, Generative AI can also help translate educational content into several languages, and this can facilitate access to education for all. In fact, according to Pr. Julia Ndibnu Messina Ethe, stating Dieu and Renaud, 1983; Bitjaa Kody, 2004, there are nearly 248 indigenous and regional languages in Cameroon. Generative AI can help also to develop new skills, for instance DASTUDY platform offers technical resources in fields such as agronomy, health, IT, and industrial techniques. These resources can help professionals and entrepreneurs develop innovative and sustainable solutions to the specific challenges of their communities. The developers of the DASTUDY platform say they also realized that producers of African content and other intellectual works (books, software, video games, etc.) did not have enough visibility on the foreign platforms on which they published their works. This is why their platform gives an opportunity for them to enhance the visibility of African content producers which enables them to gain greater local and international visibility, while at the same time promoting and monetizing African know-how.
Generative AI can help to shape creativity of students and researchers to drive innovation
According to Pr. Tojin T. Eapen et al. (2023), “one of the biggest opportunities generative AI offers is to augment human creativity and overcome the challenges of democratizing innovation”. For a country like Cameroon, as is the case for many developing countries, innovation is a path that can enable it to make considerable leaps forward in terms of development, in order to achieve the Cameroon National Development Strategy 2030 (SND30) and accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. This requires the development of a creative spirit among young people and a particular focus on research and innovation. In this respect, generative AI can play a key role because it can help generate new ideas to probe, and build new hypotheses to test in other to address complex issues in a record time. Even so, students and researchers will need to develop basic prompt engineering skills to formulate high-quality prompts and obtain the best possible results to take full advantage of the opportunity presented by Generative AI.
What policy implications are there for our position, based on experiments and exploratory work?
The policy implications can be varied. In fact, the major integration of a technology such as Generative AI into education and research in Cameroon requires a clear policy on the subject. Indeed, countries that want to take advantage of these technologies are developing National Artificial Intelligence Strategies or National Digital Strategies, and it is in Cameroon's interest to lay these foundations now. And this falls within the remit of the decision-makers. According to the Harvard Business Review, the use of AI in general today raises some legal and ethical concerns that have not yet had a clear answer. For instance, copyright issues, the data governance, deepfakes (whose impact can be devastating in terms of disinformation), and many others. This needs to be properly supervised to avoid the perverse effects of this technology. So, its use in the education and research systems will have to be properly supervised, and this has policy implications. We therefore think that Ministries in charge of Secondary education, Higher education and Scientific research should work on that. For instance, they can develop practical guides to help students, and researchers make responsible and ethical use of AI. In 2023, UNESCO developed a “Guidance for generative AI in education and research”, which can be a reference document for countries to develop guides adapted to their context.
How could this idea accelerate sustainable development?
The use of Generative AI in education and research in Cameroon could help accelerate sustainable development insofar as it will contribute to qualitative improvements in education and research, in line with the SDG 4 on quality education. Education remains the pillar of a country’s development. Generative AI can contribute to improving the quality of education and training, especially by adapting them to the needs of today's and tomorrow's job market. Generative AI can also empower teachers. It can also facilitate the learning of technical and professional skills. Generative AI can also promote research and foster innovation and creativity, which can lead to considerable leaps in development.
Other ideas on how national regulations on Generative AI could be instituted to accelerate the achievement of SGDs, particularly SDG 4 will very much be appreciated as we continuously push our reflections on the pros and cons of the subject.
Appreciation goes to Ms. Anna Ojong, Ms. Audrey Moneyang and Mr. Ariel Afana for their valuable input to this blog.