Ludo Millar 1:02
Hello, and welcome to the next episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. And a huge welcome to Kirill Slavin. Welcome, Kirill. How are you doing today?
Kirill Slavin 2:12
Thank you very much for having me. It’s an honour being on your podcast.
Ludo Millar 2:17
And it’s an honour for us to welcome you on as well. As a little introduction to Kirill, it would be strange just to dive straight into the question without you listeners knowing a little bit about about Kirill. So in truth, Kirill is not someone who’s afraid to stay ahead of the curve. He is the founder of multiple machine learning driven tech startups, and has built up a high level approach to strategy to finance to EdTech, and really we’ll be lucky today if we’re able to pick your brain a little bit on how these things, these three things, interact. So I could introduce Kirill through his impressive CV of past positions held and teams lead. But I know that Kirill would prefer to look forwards, as he has always done in his business.
So Kirill, I’m going to ask you something just before we dive into the first question, I’m going to ask you something I’ve never actually asked on this podcast before, which is: what are you as the guest looking forward to about today’s conversation?
Kirill Slavin 3:24
Well, a) bounce ideas off an intelligent person. That’s one and also to evangelise our ideas. That’s because I believe that those ideas are great. And I would like them to be known to as many people as possible.
Ludo Millar 3:46
Okay, well, let’s hope let’s see how far this podcast can go in as many pieces as possible is a good name to go for. So thank you for the little compliment you slipped in there as well. But we’re going to dive into the first question, now the second question, which is: what is your Why?
Kirill Slavin 4:05
What drives me is very, very simple. Lots of children need extra tuition, which is inevitably private, huge. And only 10% of the population can afford that. I want to make quality private tuition available at a very low cost, almost zero. And the only way to achieve it is to replace tutors with machines, at least partially. Humans are not scalable machines. Our software is beating the world, I see a world where each and every kid can download our push the start button in the app and it will deliver the same results as a private tutor or even better. So that’s why.
Ludo Millar 4:50
Okay, that’s quite a mission. Can you unpack that phrase a little bit further, ‘Humans are not scalable. Robots are’?
Kirill Slavin 5:00
So tutors are inevitably part of some sort of statistical distribution in terms of their skills, in terms of their results. So what I’m saying when I’m saying that people are not scalable is that the best tutors are not scalable; you can’t clone them. So the best students will always be the best students and mediocre tutors will be mediocre tutors. But with machines, it’s different. You can clone machines, you can clone older items. You can copy and paste at the same price. So the more copy and paste, the lower the price, which is not the case for humans.
Ludo Millar 5:56
Okay, so you’re putting out, setting out your store for the case for robot tutors. And as part of that, along comes the beautifully named Academator or AcADemator depending on how you see it. Either it’s more towards Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, or more towards a slant on academia and mate. I won’t go into that in too much detail, Kirill, but Academator. What is this? This is your new business? Why now ? Why Academator now?
Kirill Slavin 6:34
Well, historically, we started as a community project in North London, for kids that were falling behind in the first lockdown. And we, in our infinite wisdom, we thought that if we aggregate and curate the whole gamut of free self study content that is available online, it will save the children. Surprise, surprise, that didn’t work. The problem is that the kids, however good the content is, can just study on their own without a tutor or a parent nagging them. And we thought that we would transform this annoying nagging from a stick that punishes to some sort of a carrot. Why now? People always wanted to make self study psychological. Lots of stuff is addictive. Gambling, computer games, opioids, social media, but not studying. Why? No tools, until very recently. Now we have tools developed, for example, by Cambridge Analytica to manipulate people’s attention. Now we have tools developed by Dominic Cummings’ team to manipulate people’s decisions.
By the way, which British politician’s blog do they read in the Silicon Valley? I gave myself away over this. Yes, it’s Dominic Cummings, is the only one because it’s the only one who is clever … by Silicon Valley standards. So there is lots of clever attention-grabbing tools from Facebook, and TikTok. What is left is to apply those tools to self study algorithms. So to make self study addictive, and kids will be glued to their screens from mock exam questions at the speed of sound. So that’s what’s possible now. It was not possible five years ago.
Ludo Millar 8:47
Why? Because of the rise of these short form social media apps?
Kirill Slavin 8:52
Because five years ago, all those attention-grabbing algorithms and engagement algorithms. Some people say addiction algorithms, I would say engagement algorithms, they were in development in sort of testing mode. One when, for example, Dominic Cummings, was leading the campaign for Brexit. And when TikTok appeared, and TikTok was trying to bump Facebook off with their own engagement algorithms, which are very, very different from Facebook, by the way. So it was all in testing mode, and it was hush-hush. But now it’s available, freely available and anyone can use it.
Ludo Millar 9:48
So okay, there’s two questions percolating in my mind. Well there’s about 1000 questions in here, but your latest response showed me that perhaps you don’t even need me. Perhaps myself, the host of the QT Podcast can just be replaced by an AI clone of Kirill Slavin who answers the questions that human Kirill asked. So really what I want to know is how you see tutors, human tutors, fitting into the model of Academator? We can come at this from two angles. But perhaps that’s the first question. How do you see human tutors fitting the Academator structure?
Kirill Slavin 10:29
Yes, that this is a very good question. This is a very good question, actually. And we don’t need to reinvent the wheel when thinking about this question, because we could just look at other industries. And the one- a really good one to look at would be high street banking. Just look at high street banking, for example. What happened when machines started to replace people? Firstly, ATMs replaced lots of cashiers. But that was only the beginning. Now we don’t have decision-makers interacting with customers anymore. We don’t have branch managers, in the old sense, branch managers who could decide something. We don’t have managers that are authorised to do anything beyond helping you to feed into the forum’s machines, make decisions on mortgages, credit cards and unsecured loans. Humans just feed the machines with content and the content delivery methods.
Also, it has become easier to become an entry-level employee at the bank. Because everything is automated, the employee doesn’t even need to think, just to follow computer prompts. The same thing will happen to the tutors. The best tutors will be the content creators for the machines. They will be building the best content, testing it, fine tuning it and also working on the delivery algorithms. Entry-level students will be fulfilled in a different task. The great automation will widen the audience for private tuition by making it affordable and, from time to time, however good the machines are, a friendly human face will be in demand. But with automation, those newly minted tutors will need to build their own content. For example, they could sit, relax, smile, allow the machine to do the job and just build the rapport with the pupil and the parents and collect the money. So the analogy with the banking is that some tutors will become hiring risk managers, so to say, and some relaxed cashiers. So that’s what will happen with the tutoring profession I think.
Ludo Millar 13:05
Okay, so the scope and and essentially the job description of tutors may shift slightly in order to allow a greater accessibility of tutoring by the student, by the parent body?
Kirill Slavin 14:30
It is hard to say. This is a chicken and egg situation, in essence. What’s primary? What’s secondary? But I agree.
Ludo Millar 14:40
So what kind of skills do you think tutors, the tutors today of 2021, should be equipping themselves with in order to fit a future like this?
Kirill Slavin 14:53
Well, I think that these are the skills that the best tutors have had. They will like creating the content. So if you look at I, myself, I’m a maths tutor. So maths tutors, throughout their tutoring career, they collect lots and lots of content. So what they do, they take some textbooks like Pearson, or Bond, and then they create something of their own, which is better. So it takes time, it takes an awful lot of time. So I think I’ve never seen really good tutors say with less than, say, 7-8 years of experience in maths. So, they must have a lot of their own content, including past papers, past exam papers. So, a lot of content today; this is creative skills, this is creation, this is not just regurgitation. This is something of a higher order. So that will be magnified, in a sense. So they will be creating more, because they will be creating at scale. So the best tutors will be creating something that will be used by zillions of machines all over the world. And entry-level tutors, who will be capitalising on machines, just machines doing their work, they can just smile and collect the money and they will be developing soft skills, which they might already have,
Ludo Millar 16:54
Which you’d hope they already have, already have to some degree. So this is the way that you believe tutoring will reach the students. Who would be funding this? Would it be the governments? Who do you see this being run by? A group of tech companies?
Kirill Slavin 17:17
The tech companies will run it for sure. For example, I could have made what we’re doing. We’re investing some funds into creating the algorithms, the robot tutors, the infrastructure, the network infrastructure. So in the end, we will just charge a little bit, like a subscription of £200 a year, or perhaps we’ll be selling lessons on their own, like iTunes, like, stick with a lesson. For example, it might also work so and no need for the government money at all. It will develop by itself.
Ludo Millar 18:12
But do you think that- because another idea that’s circling around in my head is this, is how much this, an AI-driven approach to education, will affect teachers and schools. And I wonder at what point governments would be interested in funding this kind of learning for mainstream education, for classroom education. Do you think that? Do you see that as a possibility, or do you think the two will always remain distinct? This kind of private education and public education, as it were.
Kirill Slavin 18:44
Yeah. You’ve asked a very good question, even a dangerous one. So in China, I think you would have been shot at dawn. So big, because I think there is no big, big difference between private tutoring and teaching as such. So at some point, when we transform tutors into super creative creatures, like Gods on the one hand, and some entry-level tutors, who are just having fun, and then we’ll come to the government and say to them, ‘Look. You spend six grand of taxpayers money per pupil per year. Using our algorithms and methodology, we could halve that’.
And that would be a very interesting thing. Because there are lots of vested interests, obviously in teaching unions and teachers and schools and not only them, also universities because there will be less need for teachers. If our ideas prevail, so that in order to run a typical school would need half the number of teachers. So it’s not just teachers unions who might go berserk. It’s actually universities who are teaching teachers as well. The less teachers needed, the less students they have, the less funding they have. So lots of vested interests.
Ludo Millar 21:30
Now, let’s cast that optimism ahead fivefold. What would success look like for for Kirill Slavin in five years’ time?
Kirill Slavin 21:43
What I want to see is the best private tuition affordable and available to all. That would be fair, and also good for society. From a practical point of view, it looks like the only way to achieve this dream is to automate the tutoring process as much and as deep as possible. If in five years’ time, kids enjoy our Academator app with the robot tutors as well, getting good grades, I’d be more than happy.
Ludo Millar 22:15
Okay, so there’s the optimism, there’s the happiness and there’s the challenge both for you guys at Academator and for the ‘best private tutors’ out there to continue to grow with the changing society, changing culture that we have. The change in tech that is taking place at the moment already; just in the past five years, we’ve seen such astronomical growth. It’s no jump in the imagination to see the next five years as well to see that, you know, by 2026, there’s some inconceivable change in tutoring and the approach to children’s learning. I want to end with something that will really stick in the mind. So you can take a moment to come up with this. But my final question to you Kirill, before we finish here, is what is your ultimate message to the human tutors of today?
Kirill Slavin 23:15
Well … I- thinking is painful. I either know something or I don’t … which is not entirely true. But yeah, kind of true. So something that sits in my head about the best students is that they shall be as creative as possible, because that’s the way human civilisation has been developing through growth, through creativity. So if we channel our best tutors to be more creative in terms of content, and this content is wildly disseminated, that will be a fantastic breakthrough.
Ludo Millar 24:13
And that brings to an end a pretty jam-packed and future-driven, dream-driven 25 minutes. Thank you so much, Kirill. I will- we’ll get you back on in 2087 when you are just a robot in front of us and you’re able to provide a little look back on the last 60 years of of EdTech development. [LAUGHS] So thank you so much, Kirill, for that. That really was something that many of our listeners would probably never have considered before and will now go away thinking or knowing or not knowing or whichever one of those three. So if you’re listening to this, I’m sure there’ll be things that you missed. Go to academator.com and have a little look around at what Kirill and his team are preparing.
Kirill Slavin 25:14
Thank you so much for having me here. It was quite enjoyable.
Ludo Millar 25:20
I’m very glad. And we look forward to seeing all of you next time for our next episode. Don’t forget to check out the Qualified Tutor Podcast Group in the Qualified Tutor Community. And to leave us a little audio piece of feedback on speakpipe.com/QualifiedTutorPodcast. For one final time: thank you, Kirill. That was incredible.
Kirill Slavin 25:43
Thank you. Thank you so much.
Ludo Millar 25:48
Now just before we close today, I wanted to let you guys know about a new feedback and commenting feature we have made available to everyone and anyone. SpeakPipe is a website that allows anyone to record a short audio message and send it in. We have created a special Qualified Tutor Podcast SpeakPipe page, which can be found at speakpipe com/QualifiedTutorPodcast. The aim of this is to allow you to leave feedback on any part of our show and really whenever it pops into your head, there’s no limit to how much feedback you can give.
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