My Startup: CENTURY Tech
CENTURY Tech uses AI to create an intelligent teaching platform - and in its short few years has already changed lives.
It's used by thousands of students across the globe, creating a personalised learning path made up of micro-lessons for each one. It provides a dedicated dashboard for teachers, so they can direct individuals' work more easily, and even has capabilities for parents and guardians so schools can work more closely with caregivers.
It's proven to improve student performance by 30% and cut teacher workload by six hours each week. Taken together, it's an enormously effective platform that supports learners, teachers, and parents, and its equitable pricing system means it can be used by even those education providers struggling for funds.
Founders: Priya Lakhani OBE, Rahul Bakrania.
We spoke to Priya to learn about the history of CENTURY.
Why did you start CENTURY Tech?
While advising the government's Business Secretary, I learned that millions of pupils were learning in underperforming schools in England alone - a tragic situation that will have knock-on effects for generations.
Two of the main causes of the problem were that teachers were overstretched, with crippling workloads that were driving them out of the profession in droves, and a one-size-fits-all system that treats all children exactly the same. I met teacher after teacher who told me that they would love to be able to nurture and inspire their pupils and educate them as individuals, but their hands were tied by circumstances out of their control.
I recognised that technology was improving all other sectors - with tech and AI transforming everything from healthcare to transport to travel - but education remained largely untouched. I did a few nanodegrees in AI and combined this knowledge with principles from neuroscience and learning science, and created a platform that allows teachers to provide each child with a personalised education, while removing huge amounts of admin from their workloads - freeing them up to actually teach.
Four years later, CENTURY is being used in hundreds of schools worldwide, and we are in discussions with Ministries of Education to roll out our platform across entire school systems. It's so exciting that so many teachers are open to the idea of using technology to improve education and their response to our platform has been hugely encouraging.
Tell us more about the tech behind the product.
We combine cutting-edge artificial intelligence with neuroscience and learning science principles to create a platform that's able to understand each student's individual strengths, weaknesses and behaviours, and tailors content to them accordingly, allowing each student to fully-realise their potential.
It also provides teachers with in-depth data insights into each student, arming teachers with the information required to become even better educators. Teachers use this data to better intervene in their students learning - stretching, challenging or addressing weaknesses as appropriate.
Netflix and Amazon use algorithms to recommend your next binge or purchase, but we focus on looking at the nuances in education; combining these sort of algorithms with neuroscience and learning science to find how students learn, to create a platform that's focused on giving students what they need - not just what they want.
These recommender systems are trained on student behaviour and help to suggest material tailored to each pupil, while our clustering frameworks identify what different student groups need. We also use natural language processing to enhance our predictions, powered by qualitative content and student-teacher-input text.
We initially developed CENTURY in a closed beta with 20 schools over two years, allowing us to train our algorithms on a wealth of data. Since then, hundreds more schools have used the platform, which is continually improved by the inputs of thousands of users. Our team of data scientists ensure CENTURY stays at the forefront of technical excellence, while our teams of teaching and neuroscience experts allow us to offer a platform that works best for students and teachers.
Where are you at right now?
Having spread organically into hundreds of schools, we are now working closely with a number of Education Ministries across the world to help improve their school systems. In March, we announced the world's first ever system-wide AI in schools partnership, a landmark moment for the use of technology in education.
Over the coming months we expect to make more similar announcements and are hugely excited to be expanding across the world.
We're also adding a number of important new features to our platform, including more content, new applications for students and guardians, and better accessibility. We never stop innovating and improving at CENTURY - our outstanding team of engineers and teachers are some of the most motivated, enthusiastic people you will meet anywhere.
What are your aims for the next year?
In addition to expanding rapidly across the world, we hope to soon work with more disadvantaged communities in need of help. We hope to be involved with more projects like this, while also focussing on our core audience of schools and colleges across the world.
What's been the hardest thing about getting CENTURY Tech off the ground?
Many countries have more central control over what happens in their schools, but starting off in the English education system, with its decentralised, atomised nature, means that it has been slower for us to reach a critical mass of schools.
But through sheer word of mouth and by offering a genuinely outstanding product and service, we have been fortunate enough to work with hundreds of schools, including the most prestigious independent schools, schools in inner-city areas, and those in opportunity areas.
Education has always been traditionally sceptical of technology - often rightfully so, when you look at what tech schools have been offered historically - but we are beginning to see this change as schools realise the potential of genuinely effective technology to improve what happens in the classroom, while augmenting, not replacing, the role of the teacher.
Why should more people be using CENTURY Tech?
It helps teachers to provide each child with a truly personalised education; it reduces teacher workload by an average of six hours per week; and it improves pupils' understanding of a topic by an average of 30%.
How much will it cost users - and why is it worth the investment?
We have a fairly unique business model in which our most financially-comfortable users - for example large corporations who use CENTURY for CPD - help to subsidise subscriptions for our customers with the tightest budgets, like English state schools. We take circumstances into account when agreeing partnerships with new schools and always work out a plan that works for everyone involved.
We are a social impact enterprise, it's enshrined in our constitution, so we don't charge more than we have to. We're here to work with schools, not to turn a quick profit from them.
Our impact is backed by UCL's EDUCATE programme, with which we worked on a study of CENTURY's effects on students, and our schools and colleges themselves report remarkable results from using the platform. Our schools also tell us that CENTURY helps them to have a happier, healthier, more productive workforce, a better educated cohort of students, and a better-informed and updated group of parents - a rare win-win-win for schools.