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Education in an AI Age

Updated: Jul 8


In 2007 Estonia, a digitally advanced country, experienced on unprecedented 3 weeks of cyber-attacks. They came from its neighbour, Russia, and are believed to have been a Kremlin-led response to the removal of a Soviet-era statue. These attacks are now regarded as the first state-sponsored cyberwar.

Following the attack, which shut swathes of the country’s government and banks for weeks, Estonia faced a choice – pull up the ramparts and build bigger walls or embrace technology and innovate. Realising it couldn't predict the shape or timing of future attacks, Estonia chose to innovate and diversify to spread and reduce future risk.


In 2021 Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education at the OECD, described two education scenarios as schools enter the Ai age – reschool or deschool. Continue with the status quo, possibly with a few tweaks, or see a radical shift in where, how, and what students learn, led by big tech corporate investment.

The bricks and mortar of schools have remained surprisingly resilient to change over the last two centuries, but two events in the last four years provoke a rethink of their and teachers' immutability - the COVID-19 pandemic and the arrival of generative Ai.


In 2022, ChatGPT hit schools like an asteroid from space. It started a cold war between students using it to write assignments, and teachers trying to block it with about as much success as King Canute trying to hold back the tide. 

The pandemic and Ai show that increasingly neither schools nor teachers are essential in education. They also show that both are highly valuable to it.

By the end of 2022 the cumulative toll of lockdowns and isolation on students, whānau and staff affirmed the important social role of schools and face-face learning.


The arrival of ChatGPT and other generative Ai on the heels of COVID-19 has given education an opportunity to reflect, rethink and imagine. In a possible world of chatbots, workbook-bots, teachbots and studentbots, what do we want for our rangatahi in an Ai age?


First, we want students to value original knowledge, thinking, creativity and effort. A recent study of Canadian young adults showed 41% were 'science hesitant’ and more likely to trust social media over traditional knowledge sources. We want to avoid a generation of cybercynics and cyberslackers.


Second, we want Ai to be learner-centric, not content-centric. One market forecast estimates that e-learning will grow by 14% annually to an approximate value of US$ 700 billion by 2030.  This investment expects prompt returns and so development has focussed on low hanging fruit such as maths or exam preparation using variations of rote learning. But education must also develop broader ‘student-centric’ skills such as communication, social, and critical thinking skills.


Third, we want students to learn how to use Ai positively and appropriately, including knowing when not to use it, and how to identify and mitigate its misuse such as deep fakes, scams, and disinformation.


To achieve these goals teachers must spearhead innovation of Ai in education supported by school leaders and the wider system in a connected innovation approach.  Ai in education mustn't be framed as an either-or, i.e. block its use or employ it to replace teachers and schools. Instead let's innovate and enhance the role of teachers and schools.


It's a complex equation with risks such as safety, equity, protecting Te Reo and Mātauranga Māori, and more. The early sci-fi writer, Isaac Asimov, wrote ‘Knowledge has its dangers... but is the response to be a retreat from knowledge?". Like Estonia, it’s tempting to raise the ramparts, but the better solution is to innovate. 


Education, especially public education needs to pivot and adapt quickly. This will be best achieved by fostering multiple innovation centres, locally and globally, sharing successes, failures, and learnings.

Let's connect and innovate.

 

Ko ia kāhore nei i rapu, tē kitea

Those who don't seek, won't find.

 

Whāia te mātauranga hei oranga mō koutou.

Seek after learning for the sake of your wellbeing.

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