Artificial intelligence researchers tackle pupil engagement in new project with primary schools

Researchers from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) who found artificial intelligence (AI) can improve school attendance are now looking at ways to increase pupil engagement and enhance pupil attainment in a follow-up project, notably amongst disadvantaged groups. 

Dr Raymond Moodley, member of DMU’s Institute of AI (IAI) and of the RiSE (Research in Societal Enhancement) group, has led an initiative that aims to ensure no child goes to school hungry, by providing free breakfast packs for primary-age pupils across Milton Keynes. 

This follows on from RiSE’s previous work which enhanced Milton Keynes-based Willen Primary School’s attendance by using AI models to identify patterns relating to pupils who were frequently absent.  

Raymond Moodley Breakfast Packs
Dr Moodley is leading the initiative as a follow-up to the AI research

“Our AI models can describe and predict issues but the solution to these issues lies in social action,” explained Dr Moodley. “We know from the previous study that AI can be used to improve attendance but how engaged are the pupils when they are at school?  

“We have found that a number of primary school children go to school without having breakfast and this impacts their behaviour and learning, and ultimately the school’s results are affected too.” 

Funded and supported by a local multifaith organisation, the Milton Keynes Sai Centre, Dr Moodley’s initiative has led to the creation of breakfast packs containing a box of cereal and carton of long-life milk for any child who requests one. 

“A child who is not properly fed can still attend school but they are less likely to be engaged – especially with core subjects like Maths and English which are usually taught in the morning,” he continued. 

"It is hard to imagine children being able to enjoy the adventures of the Famous Five or appreciate the beauty and usefulness of arithmetic and geometry when their tummies are rumbling from not having eaten for 15 hours with their next meal still three hours away.” 

Dr Suresh Nesaratnam, chair of Milton Keynes Sai Centre, said: “This initiative is at the heart of our purpose: love all, serve all. 

“Apart from alleviating the immediate distress that children are feeling by going without food, we are very mindful that this initiative will also enable children to engage better at school, thus improving their life outcomes and the outcomes for society at large.” 

The initiative is also being supported by Morrisons Leisure Plaza store in Milton Keynes, with the breakfast packs available to buy in-store for under £2. 

“This is a social action initiative designed to help resolve engagement issues we are seeing at schools,” added Dr Moodley. “It is being trialled in Milton Keynes but can easily be adopted anywhere in the country from larger cities like Leicester or Birmingham to smaller villages in Lincolnshire.” 

Ms Carrie Matthews, headteacher at Willen Primary School, said: “We are very fortunate to work alongside DMU's RiSE team in executing our strategy to enhance pupil attainment and progress.  

“Supported by AI, our attendance has improved and remains high, and we are now addressing pupil engagement by tackling child food poverty which is being led by the breakfast pack scheme.  

“This holistic, AI-supported approach, will go a long way in enhancing the life outcomes of all our children at Willen Primary School.” 

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Dr Moodley and his RiSE colleagues, Dr Mario Gongora, Dr Fabio Caraffini, and Prof Francisco Chiclana will be working alongside DMU’s Health and Life Science colleagues to provide an integrated approach to improving educational and health outcomes of pupils.  

"The damaging effects of child poverty can have lifelong negative impacts on well-being and health outcomes. Initiatives like the breakfast pack scheme are simple, effective, and will positively impact children’s lives both immediately and later in life," said Professor Bertha Ochieng, Professor of Integrated Health and Social Care at DMU.

Posted on Friday 2 July 2021

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