French Ministry of Education to Bring Voice Assistants into the Classroom
The French Ministry of Education this past summer released a call for proposals concerning “the conception, creation, and supply of a voice assistant to teach English to elementary school kids.” Yes, that means the Ministry of Education plans to introduce voice assistants to French elementary schools to help students learn English. Beyond the overall scope, reading the documents revealed a few interesting criteria of the proposal.
Addressing the Teacher Accent Problem
The need for a voice assistant is related to the so-called “hazardous” pronunciation of English by elementary grade French teachers. As the document itself states, “This English-language voice assistant is a help for teachers who do not have an expert knowledge of English.”
As many linguists will tell you, it is at these ages that the ear learns to recognize sounds and the ear is “made.” Elementary grade teachers tend to generalists when it comes to education and English may not be their core competence. Voice assistants can help with this by allowing students to hear “neutral” pronunciations at an age when the language center of the brain is still developing.
The Need for Multiple Use Cases
Another requirement was that the voice assistant should be designed to be of use in class 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 should be able to work online as well as offline. It means that the content as well as the artificial intelligence should be available both locally and in the cloud. There are only a handful of providers such as Snips or Nuance that could fulfill those 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 bids are due on October 14th and once the contract is awarded, the first step will be to deploy the assistant in 500 schools. The goal of this proof of concept is to validate the solution not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of pedagogic content.
One point is odd though. The budget indicated for the proof of concept is “only” €200’000 ($220,000 USD). This means that:
- Educational publishing houses (those editing school books) will likely rely on existing technology such as Alexa or Google, or Snips to a lesser extent
- It will probably be impossible to be 100% compliant with all the technical requirements
All in all, this is a great initiative by the French government to push AI and voice assistants in the classroom. Now, let’s see how well it will be executed and how it will resonate with the children, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders. Let’s also monitor if such an initiative is to inspire other governments to bring voice on the agenda.
About the Author
Alexis Hue is the managing director of Voice & You, a boutique agency where he advises local brands on how to utilize voice to increase their competitive advantage as well as helps international Alexa skills developers to in France. He is also the co-founder both the Journal de la Voix, France’s #1 Media dedicated 100% to voice