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Harnessing AI to Bridge the Digital Divide in Eastern Europe

The Romanian government enacted a pivotal law in 2017 mandating the inclusion of STEM disciplines in all education institutions, targeting children as young as five. But schools stumbled on a roadblock on their way to fulfill this effort —the lack of qualified educators for STEM subjects in underprivileged areas, both rural and urban. In response to this problem, a collective of entrepreneurs collaborated with university professors from our member Bucharest University of Economic Studies to develop a digital solution that could help school teachers deliver STEM and tech education to children across Eastern Europe.

 

The solution is an adaptive learning platform provided by the Nextlab.Tech, a private company that uses a virtual assistant powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) to support teachers in delivering lessons in robotics, computer programming, cybersecurity, 3D printing, machine learning, virtual reality, and other advanced tech subjects. The lessons are available for tutors who teach kids and adults between 8 and 25 years old. Local banks, European funds, and multinational corporations like Renault, SAP, Oracle, and NXP Semiconductors, among others, are partners and finance the initiative.

 

"When it comes to education, many people think that AI is dangerous and that students will cheat on their essays and exams. However, the responsible use of AI can produce substantial benefits. Bridging the digital divide is one of them", argues Prof. Razvan Bologa, CEO of Nextlab.Tech and Professor at Bucharest University of Economic Studies.

 

The initiative started as a pilot project in 2018, encompassing 3,000 users across 100 schools in Romania. Since then, it has experienced remarkable growth, reaching over 800,000 students in 5,400 schools across three countries, with a total investment cost of five million dollars. Private companies investing in the Nextlab.Tech have also utilized the platform to meet their internal needs and to encourage STEM education among their employees.

For Prof. Bologa, developing skills at speed and scale is crucial to improving a country's competitiveness and fostering sustainable local economies. The idea that skills development should be central to any competitiveness and growth strategy was extensively highlighted in the Future Skills report, published by the GFCC in 2021.

 

Looking ahead, Prof. Bologa envisions the continued operation of the Nextlab.Tech for the next 10 to 15 years, recognizing it as necessary to bridge the region's prevailing digital divide. There are also plans to expand the initiative to the university level and extend its reach to other countries in Western Europe, building on existing collaborations, including a client in Italy, and eventually venturing into the Middle East.

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Kids participate in a robotics hackathon promoted by the the Next.Lab

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