Addressing the technology gap with AI-powered STEM Initiatives expands learning opportunities for students with learning differences.
PALO ALTO, Calif. — November 8, 2023 —Benetech, a global nonprofit focused on providing equitable opportunities for all learners, today announced an award from the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, for work leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) to reduce barriers to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. This support will be used to enhance Benetech’s AI-powered suite of accessibility tools, PageAI, in making complex visuals, graphs, and equations in science and math educational materials accessible to people with dyslexia, vision loss, and other reading barriers. PageAI is a technology solution that converts inaccessible STEM content into inclusive learning materials for students with disabilities. PageAI identifies STEM content in books like equations, graphs, and images and transforms them into alternative formats. Powered by AI, the tool remediates inaccessible STEM content at scale, reducing time and cost associated with manual remediation and dramatically increasing the provision of learning materials for students with disabilities.
“Broad, equitable access to STEM education opens doors for young people to develop the AI literacy that will help them become architects of an equitable digital future.,” said Nick Cain, Director of Strategic Grants at the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation. “We applaud Benetech’s longstanding commitment to serving people with disabilities with accessible technology and are excited to support the next phase of their work using machine learning to help more students engage with math and science texts.”
In the United States alone, an estimated one in five students or 15-20% of the population are dyslexic or have a learning difference, and another 1.5+ million have visual impairments or physical disabilities that make it challenging to interact with STEM educational content. Transforming STEM educational content into accessible formats is very complex as it involves making the text, different types of images (equations, graphs, diagrams, pictures, etc.), navigation, and interaction accessible. The average math textbook has over 5,000 equations, and it can take months and thousands of dollars for a human to transform a print math book into accessible formats that can be properly read by a screen reader. This is a significant obstacle for students who have been systematically excluded and marginalized.
“For a truly inclusive future, people with disabilities and learning differences need to be part of teams in the growing STEM job market, that are building technologies of tomorrow,” said Ayan Kishore, Benetech CEO. “Today, these students are dropping out of STEM in K12, because much of STEM learning is and has been doggedly inaccessible. This is a tremendous equity issue, and one we believe AI can help solve. We are proving that AI can make equations and graphs into accessible formats that can enhance learning for all.”
Building on Two Decades of Education Equity through Technology
Benetech has been making reading and learning accessible for people with reading barriers, at scale, through its Bookshare initiative. Benetech introduced PageAI to address gaps in the market specific to enhancing the accessibility of STEM education materials for students with visual impairment and other learning differences. The technology will also empower education stakeholders, including teachers, publishers, researchers, and students themselves, to improve the accessibility of their own materials. With support from General Motors Foundation, Benetech pioneered a math module in PageAI to automate the transformation of math educational materials into accessible format readable by screen readers that students with learning differences require to learn. Additionally, Schmidt Futures funded a Benetech led competition to further improve PageAI’s ability to make complex math graphs and charts accessible in K-12 education with a graph module. Benetech will publicly release learnings and a dataset resulting from this competition.
The funding from the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation will extend PageAI to include an additional module focused on transforming STEM content such as Chemistry or Physics, into an accessible format. This will include a beta program to provide PageAI as a service for students on Bookshare Reader in 2024.
Benetech is transforming the digital infrastructure to provide accessible STEM learning content and believes it is an important investment that will reap dividends in human equity and advancement. Benetech is grateful to collaborate with future forward thinking from partners like Schmidt Futures, Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, and GM. We welcome like-minded philanthropists and other partners to join in our efforts to solve this hard problem. If you are looking to fund projects that enable STEM education for students in marginalized communities and with learning differences, please reach out to us at: [email protected].
Benetech believes that equitable access to education is a human right. Our technology and services break down systemic barriers and empower all learners regardless of ability. Around the world, we partner with local communities to expand inclusive and equitable education opportunities. To date we have delivered more than 20 million accessible books helping over 1.5 million students, jobseekers, and adults to read, learn, and pursue their dreams. Visit www.benetech.org.
About Patrick J. McGovern Foundation
The Patrick J. McGovern Foundation (PJMF) is a philanthropic organization dedicated to advancing artificial intelligence and data science solutions to create a thriving, equitable, and sustainable future for all. PJMF works in partnership with public, private, and social institutions to drive progress on our most pressing challenges, including digital health, climate change, broad digital access, and data maturity in the social sector.