In every sector, AI has become a key topic of conversation over the past year. Yet, following Rishi Sunak’s claim at London Tech Week that AI can be used to enable personalized learning for school children - the spotlight is now on AI’s potential within education.
However, not everyone shares Rishi Sunak’s enthusiasm for AI being used to transform classrooms. In fact, our community is split. On one side, there’s those who are unsure about AI. And, on the other hand, there’s those who believe we should embrace it.
In order to reunite our community around potentially one of the most important technological developments, we must separate fact from fiction and facilitate an open discussion around the threats and opportunities AI brings.
The real impact of AI
Several important public figures – Elon Musk, Geoffrey Hinton (an early pioneer of AI), and the Head of Google – have all admitted at least some level of anxiety about the current development of AI. As such, it’s no wonder that teaching professionals who may not have had the same exposure to the technology feel uncertain. Nevertheless, it’s clear we simply can’t afford to ignore this technological development and must start to understand how we can use it to our advantage.
One important reality that many are yet to consider is the already prolific existence of AI in our society. Tools like ChatGPT have attracted a lot of attention over the past year because they’ve been thrust into the public eye. But, as highlighted in an RM report, many of the people who express fear of the technology have already been using it for years. Google, for example, has been using machine learning (a basic form of AI), for a long time.
It’s also critical to distinguish between fact and fiction. The idea that robots, powered by AI, might somehow replace teachers in the classroom simply isn’t likely and certainly isn’t desired inside or outside the teaching community. But, if we can move beyond the current hype and start to objectively look at practical use cases for AI in the education sector - the opportunity AI could offer teachers starts to become clearer.
Jason Tomlinson is Managing Director at RM.
How AI will enter the education sector
The real benefit of AI lies in how it can support teachers with administrative and repetitive tasks.
One of the key areas AI can provide real assistance with is marking - which, after teaching, is the task that many spend most of their time on. As many teachers will tell you, marking is repetitive. As such, it’s ripe for AI to help alleviate some of the time spent on it. It will be easier to implement in subjects like math, where the answers are objective and easily defined, compared to a subject like English. Yet, there’s the potential for teachers to save hours each week.
But, AI can go one step further, helping teachers personalize the learning experience for students - similar to Sunak’s vision at London Tech Week. By taking into account different learning styles and abilities, AI can use student data to create customized lesson plans and supporting materials.
However, the most important point to make here is that teachers will, and should, remain the final decision makers. Tools powered by AI, such as ChatGPT, make good assistants. They can perform basic, easy-to-understand tasks extremely well and at a rapid pace. By using them in this way, teachers can reduce hours of work. This, in turn, will enable them to spend more time with students helping them with their educational development.
Looking back on the advent of the internet, the parallels in public reaction are clear. Back then, there was caution, uncertainty, and in some cases outright dismissals. AI seems no different. And while it’s true that we should remain cautious – we also need to look for the practical use cases that can positively impact the education sector as a whole.
Today, every child with access to it uses the internet to study, making it one of the most helpful educational tools ever created. In a decade, we might be saying the same about AI.
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Jason Tomlinson is Managing Director at RM. An executive with extensive experience in technology, Jason leads a team of 800 at RM, driving digital progress in the education sector.