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Opinion: The promise and peril of Artificial Intelligence in education

FOCUS - UNGA SPECIAL REPORT

Opinion: The promise and peril of Artificial Intelligence in education

This month, in partnership with UNESCO and the Teachers College at Columbia University, the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) will hold a conference to explore the myths and realities of bringing artificial intelligence into the future of education. WISE CEO Stavros N. Yiannouka (pictured) writes on how to get the balance right.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to be one of the most consequential technologies in terms of its transformational potential on our economies and societies. As with every new technology, the potential of AI holds both great promise and peril.

Education will not be immune, and the decisions we make today as policymakers and educators will influence the degree to which we tip the impact scales towards the promise and away from the peril.

Data analytics, the key enabler of AI, holds the promise that we can deliver evidenced-based, efficient, and cost-effective personalised learning solutions to all the world’s learners, young and old alike.

These same technologies can also be applied to streamline the administration of education – scheduling, testing, grading, etc. – thereby freeing up our most valuable educational resource, the time teachers spend in classrooms engaging directly with their students.

But there is also peril inherent in the application of AI to education. Personalised learning can quickly degenerate into streaming on steroids, where learners are classified early on according to their perceived abilities and competences, and carry that classification with them throughout their schooling and then into their working lives. Equally, technologies such as facial recognition, which can help us assess which teaching approaches work best with which students, can also be used to closely monitor student behaviour and enforce uniformity and conformity.

As our recent experience with social media has reaffirmed, technologies which support education – from the printing press, to radio and television – can also be used very effectively as instruments of misinformation and propaganda.

Ultimately, as policymakers and educators, it is up to us to decide how to realise the potential of AI and steer it towards amplifying our innate qualities as human beings; qualities such as curiosity, collaboration, and critical thinking. In order to do that we need to make every effort to guard against the unintended consequences that often accompany the rapid deployment of new technologies. In education, and I suspect in many other spheres of life, there is an urgent need for dialogue between the AI industry, policymakers and educators.

 

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