How AI assistants can reduce teachers’ workloads, alleviate stress and avoid burnout – to improve teaching.

It’s hard to be an educator in Singapore. They have to plan classes, teach and consistently find ways to engage students who just have various individual needs. Additionally, 50% of their time is spent on non-teaching tasks and it’s no wonder they’re overworked. 

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Teaching and Learning International Survey in 2019, Singaporean teachers are clocking in an average of 46 hours a week, higher than the global average of 39 hours for their international counterparts. However, only 18 hours were spent on teaching, with the other hours going to administrative tasks and extra-curricular activities. 

DigiconAsia discussed with Yvonne Soh, Co-Founder, Noodle Factory, the challenges educators in this region face and how AI and Natural Language Processing can be leveraged as a solution:

According to the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey in 2019, Singaporean teachers are clocking in an average of 46 hours a week, with only 18 hours actually spent on teaching. How does that compare to the global and regional averages?

Yvonne Soh, Co-Founder, Noodle Factory

Soh: The working hours of 46 hours a week is more than the OECD average of 39 hours a week. This puts Singaporean teachers as having the 7th longest working hours in the world.

This is on par with the US and Vietnam, and slightly less than the UK and Canada, which averages at 47 hours a week. Australian teachers clocked an average of 45 hours a week. Notably, Japan has the longest working hours of 56 hours a week.

As for time spent actually teaching, Singaporean teachers spent about 39% of their time on teaching. This is below the OECD global average of 43%. Japanese teachers spend 32% teaching, Korean 35%, German 42%, US 48%.

What factors contribute to why teachers are overworked? How does the workload, stress and possible burnout affect the quality of teaching and the learning environment?

Soh: The majority of teachers in Singapore join the profession because they genuinely are passionate and want to make an impact on young people. However, teachers often end up spending a lot of time, more than 50%, as we can see from the stats, on non-teaching activities. These include marking papers, preparing for lessons, administrative work, extra-curricular activities, parent communication.

With the current pandemic, this has also extended to activities like converting lessons to online content, guiding students on using online platforms, as well as having to learn new online tools themselves. With teachers having to juggle so much, they end up having to spend after-office hours on non-teaching activities.

It is not uncommon to see teachers in Singapore taking their work home with them (e.g. marking papers on the weekends). Teachers also can’t choose when to go on holiday (they have to follow the school calendar and even then don’t get to enjoy the full school holidays due to supplementary classes and extracurricular activities), and so they can’t decide that they need to take leave to recuperate when they feel overwhelmed.

In Singapore, a survey conducted by the Singapore Counselling Centre revealed that 80% of educators experienced a decline in mental health and 63% experienced a decline in physical health due to the pandemic. All this leads to potential burnout which would take a toll on how much they can contribute in the classroom, and also a lack of time to give individualized attention to students.

In your opinion, what are some of the obstacles and considerations keeping potential educators from stepping into the teaching industry?

Soh: Although teachers in Singapore are paid reasonably, they tend to work longer hours than their peers in professions with similar educational requirements and salaries. The nature of the job and the commitment required may prove a deterrent to some. The grueling amount of work may potentially put off exceptional teachers with the right skills and passion to impart knowledge to students under the Singapore education system.

It is also not uncommon to hear about teachers who quit as they feel it was not what they signed up for, as they were unhappy about having to spend most of their time on non-teaching activities. This puts an extra burden on the education system here and there is definitely a need to address the issues from a teacher-perspective as well.

How can AI and automation help to address and tackle the woes of educators within the education system?

Soh: AI has the potential to help educators in several ways, which has become necessary as class sizes have increased. Firstly, to help educators provide a better learning experience for their students by providing personalization.

As students directly or indirectly engage with the AI and by utilizing technologies like Natural Language Processing, the AI is able to capture the relevant data points and provide insights into the progress of individual students, highlighting those that may need additional support, and using the information to better craft personalized teaching plans, tailored accurately to the class as well as the individuals.

AI-powered automation is a great way to augment what teachers do by offloading a lot of the non-teaching tasks like marking, even creating assessments and tutoring, and also administrative functions. By using AI tools like Noodle Factory, teachers can save as much as 400 hours, usually spent on the grading of assignments alone.

With good datasets and over time, AI tools are able to compare between student answers and the model answer provided by the teachers, deducing the reasoning and logic of the answer instead of relying on the comparison of mere keywords. This frees up teachers, prevents burnout and instead empowers teachers to be able to spend more time improving lessons, and providing personalized attention to students who need it.