How school districts are using AI and Natural-Language Processing to close the gap with families that speak a language other than English — and yours can too!
There are any number of hard conversations taking place in schools this year around equity in the classroom. But equity doesn’t start with opportunity. It starts with access.
Do minority parents and students have access to the same resources as their classmates and counterparts? When it comes to communication, is your school or district available through the channels that these same families use and rely on? Or, are you creating barriers to equitable communication without even realizing it?
In March, the nonprofit Education Trust-West, which studies educational inequities in states like California and others, released results of a parent poll conducted earlier in the pandemic.
From an article published by the Century Foundation about the poll:
- 1 in 5 students did not receive the necessary equipment from their school to be able to participate in distance learning in a language that they understood.
- A quarter of non-English home speakers said their child’s school had not provided materials in other languages.
- 93 percent received information from their schools and teachers about their child’s new online classes/distance learning program, but 31 percent of those parents did not understand those instructions.
Even in places where schools were working hard to provide resources for students, persistent language barriers and a lack of equitable communication significantly undercut those efforts.
From the same Century Foundation report:
- 1 in 3 parents who responded to the poll reported they do not have an email address that they can use to receive information from schools and teachers.
The results led contributor Alejandra Vazquez Baur to pose this question:
“If schools have no way of communicating with parents, how are they supposed to adequately support their child in this new and complicated learning system?”
One recommendation from the Center was that “teachers should choose a communication app to easily contact parents and students that is adaptable to all phone types and easily accessible by computer.”
Go multi-channel — in multiple languages
One potential solution is a chatbot, or some form of communication that minority and non-English-speaking families can access over their cellular phone network, regardless of email or wi-fi connection.
At K12 Insight, we developed the Let’s Talk! Assistant as a tool for parents and families to easily seek and find information about their schools.
Natural-Language Processing, AI and translation capabilities mean that stakeholders can easily toggle between English and Spanish to find the information they are looking for. (So far, data suggest that stakeholders can find up to 80% of information without picking up the phone or sending an email.)
If they can’t find the information on their own, the app allows them to instantly connect with someone in the district who is closest to the problem, so they can get the help they need. Reverse English-to-Spanish translation means school leaders can easily communicate information back out.
And the best part?
Let’s Talk! can be accessed via smartphone or the computer, on any device where parents, students and staff feel most comfortable.
That was the goal at the Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island, where more than 50 percent of students do not speak English as their primary language.
“We’re committed to ensuring that our interactions reflect and express the core values of our district — particularly equity and access — and this bilingual chatbot allows us to serve our families in a culturally responsive way.”
-Dr. Javier Montanez, interim superintendent, Providence Public Schools, Rhode Island
Let’s Talk! Assistant doesn’t solve the equity problem for schools. But it does provide school leaders and their technology teams with a new channel by which to promote, manage and effectively service more equitable school communication.
To help districts get started, our implementation team provides an initial Knowledge Base of 50 data-backed frequently asked questions, including the most common questions submitted by parents in our database of more than 250 schools across the country.
Our team also offers a three-week go-live timeline, giving you just enough time to get up and running before the first day of school!