The Ministry of National Education will bring voice assistants into the classroom

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The French Ministry of Education published a call for proposals last summer for “the design, creation and supply of a voice assistant to teach English to primary school children”. Yes, this means that the Ministry of Education is considering introducing voice assistants in French primary schools to help students learn English. Beyond the global scope, reading the documents revealed some interesting criteria of the proposal.

Solve the problem of the teacher’s accent

The need for a voice assistant is linked to the so-called “dangerous” pronunciation of English by French primary school teachers. As the document itself says, “This English voice assistant is a help for teachers who do not have a thorough knowledge of English.

As many linguists will tell you, it is at these ages that the ear learns to recognize sounds and that the ear is “made”. Primary school teachers tend to be generalists in education and English may not be their core competence. Voice assistants can help by allowing students to hear “neutral” pronunciations at an age when the brain’s language center is still developing.

The need for multiple use cases

Another requirement was that the voice assistant be designed for use in the classroom and at home and “rely on all types of hardware” such as smart speakers, computers, tablets and smartphones. Another interesting detail is that the winning solution must be able to work both online and offline. This means that content as well as artificial intelligence must be available both locally and in the cloud. There are only a handful of vendors such as Snips or Nuance that could meet these requirements today. The assistant will also have to offer a multi-user mode and differentiate the voices within a group of students.

Deployment in 32,000 schools

In terms of planning, the offers are due on October 14e and once the contract is awarded, the first step will be to deploy the assistant in 500 schools. The purpose of this proof of concept is to validate the solution not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of educational content.

One point is strange though. The budget indicated for the proof of concept is “only” 200,000 € (220,000 USD). It means that:

  1. Educational publishing houses (those that publish school books) will likely rely on existing technologies such as Alexa or Google, or Snips to a lesser extent.
  2. It will probably be impossible to be 100% compliant with all technical requirements

Overall, this is a great initiative by the French government to push AI and voice assistants into the classroom. Now let’s take a look at how well it will be executed and how it resonates with children, teachers, parents and other stakeholders. Let us also check whether such an initiative should inspire other governments to make their voices heard on the agenda.

About the Author
Alexis Hue is the Managing Director of The voice and you, a boutique agency where he advises local brands on how to use voice to increase their competitive advantage and helps international developers of Alexa skills get to France. He is also the co-founder of both the Journal of the Voice, 1st media in France dedicated 100% to voice

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