“I just stressed for 5 hours doing 6 pages of words problems so I can raise my grade by 1 percent”
This is something my friend told me because she cared so much about grades and to be honest, I would do the exact same thing. The first thing that comes to teens when school is mentioned is work or stress. I asked many teens what they could change about school and a large number of people wanted to be more engaged and to have a better curriculum. Most kids dread what they do in school and that has become the new norm, but why?
School is a place where kids are supposed to be excited about learning and when we are little, that is the case. After being forced to do things we are not passionate about, we start not liking school.
As we grow up, the problems with our education system really kick in and it affects a lot of us kids. Our school system follows a very strict ‘one size fits all’ policy and kids can get very discouraged from it.
Can you ask a fish to climb a tree?
No, because climbing a tree is not one of the many strengths that a fish has and we should focus on what it excels at, like swimming.
The same goes for humans. It’s not fair to ask someone who excels more at math to write a five-page essay on the history of metamorphic rocks. Kids will not enjoy doing it and as a result, do it poorly and start hating school, the reason they had to write it in the first place.
About 30 percent of the students indicate they are bored due to lack of interaction with teachers and 75 percent report material being taught is not interesting. As everyone has different passions, learning everything may make class extremely uninteresting.
When adults are told about this problem, they say something along the lines of, “Oh, everyone in the school is supposed to feel like this, just get through it” My question is why is the school supposed to be like this? Why can’t we enjoy school and actually learn what we want to learn?
This is where Brain-Computer Interfaces come in…
Brain-Computer Interfaces are devices that collect signals from the brain and combine it with an external device. There are three types of BCIs, invasive, semi-invasive and non-invasive and in this article, we will be focusing on the non-invasive.
The most common way non-invasive technique is electroencephalography (EEG) which places electrodes on the scalp to read brain activity. Two other techniques include functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG). Both these ways use magnetic fields to access and analyze brain activity and it is extremely accurate.
BCIs can read neural signals or stimulate the brain but if they do both they are called Bidirectional BCIs. When focusing on educational uses, bidirectional BCIs will be needed. Some technology that helps stimulate the brain is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial electric stimulation (tES).
TMS uses coils of wire to produce strong magnetic potentials that stimulate different areas of the brain. tES uses cranial electrotherapy stimulation(CES) to increase or decrease the excitability of neurons.
What Have People Done About It
Many people have been thinking about how we can fix this and a lot of innovations including BCIs have been made in the past decade. There is something called Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITSs) and they are “computer programs that model learners psychological states to provide individualized instruction”.
These programs have models that link the student's knowledge, what needs to be learned and instructional strategies. Fortunately, it has been proven to be as effective as human tutors.
There have been companies who actually made these programs and one of those companies is NeuroSky(link). NeuroSky made a kit with an inexpensive EEG that is available for commercial use. With it, come apps that have many digital educational activities. They focus on allowing the kids to understand what they learn and how they can learn better. There are even educational games(ex. game that helps with math anxiety).
When asked, lots of students said they felt what they were learning was not applicable for the real world and they wanted more engaging teaching methods. We can do tests where kids are taught material and we try to engage them using different teaching techniques and curriculum. The kids in the tests would wear EEGs to test how engaged they are. We can use this data can change the curriculum into things kids like and to see what teaching methods work better.
EEGs pick up different frequencies of brainwaves and the different brainwaves are classified for different emotions and states. This is how they are classified:
Delta waves indicate that the mind is sleepy or in this case, the student is bored. Testing kids on what produces delta waves can help us figure out what subjects students don’t like.
After getting this data, we would then either change the curriculum or change the teaching methods. After this, we would try different teaching methods on the students to see what works better. For example, when the EEG picks up Gamma waves, it will know the student is more focused.
For subjects like math, Gamma waves and Beta waves are the waves we want to receive. If we receive them from many students while performing a specific teaching method, we will know that method works. For subjects like Art or English, we might want Alpha waves so we would look for the different teaching methods where the EEG picks up those waves.
I believe that testing different teaching methods and curriculum on kids, the people actually learning the info, will improve the school experience.
In the past, the school system was made in the industrial revolution to make everyone have the basic skills to work. That itself was not good for the kid's mental health but the skills they taught helped for the future so it was more acceptable.
Many students don’t work well in the school environment and could do a lot better with more personalized teaching methods and BCIs could make this happen. Instead of doing it on a large scale where we use the mean of the data and work on techniques from there, we could just make it different for each student.
Lots of students have problems with the teachers they receive so to take away this issue, we use ITSs as it is just as effective as human teachers. They use AI to provide instructions and feedback on solutions. ITS has a lot of potential using Brain-Computer Interfaces.
Using EEGs, it would sense when the brain is engaged and working hard to understand what’s happening(Gamma and Beta waves). After figuring out when it is engaged, it could also use TMS or tES to stimulate the brain when it senses it’s unengaged(Theta and Delta waves).
We would also have classes where everyone learns with ITS and there are some teachers still there who can answer questions and still take care of the kids. If the child is unengaged, the ITS could report it to a teacher and the teacher can try to figure out what the problem is quickly. These teachers would have more qualifications and learn the teaching methods that were proven to be successful in the tests.
This way, kids are learning the information they like, in a way they understand and they would learn as much as they can.
Why Aren’t We Doing This Yet?
All of this sounds amazing and like it would help kids a lot but why don’t we use it today? Unfortunately, a lot of the in-depth research done has only been proof of concepts and they haven’t been more than that because of technological and pedagogical factors. Even the companies that got out of that phase like NeuroSky, haven’t been able to implement it into the school system and could only advertise it as a tutoring system.
Our government is very slow and they don’t think about things that could help the kids more. They may not do this completely on purpose and a lot of them do not understand the value of these products.
Along with the fact that they don’t understand it, there is a big lack of funding. They will spend the funding to support the current education system like outdated textbooks. Improving it will cost lots of money and in many cases, that is the main reason for these ideas ending.
Kids are the future and giving them the capability to learn better will amazingly impact humanity. The youth of our world is often underestimated on their capabilities and a bad school system can impact so many of them greatly. School should be a fun part of everyone's life that people look forward to because of what they learn.