In recent years artificial intelligence (AI) has become readily accessible to the general public, with examples such as ChatGPT making their way into everyday life. Whilst AI is not a new technology, recent advances and accessibility poses opportunities, as well as challenges, to the education sector.
To understand the applicability of AI in the education sector, the Department for Education (DfE) published a call for evidence over the summer. Respondents across the sector recorded that they are beginning to see benefits from the use of AI, and gave positive feedback in respect of the opportunities it presents. However, concerns about the potential risks of using AI were also flagged. The responses also provided suggestions on the support that the sector would find beneficial.
An interesting revelation during the call for evidence was that, despite the uncertainty of the risk of using AI in the sector, adoption of AI tools amongst respondents was high. Most respondents who were working in schools stated they were using AI tools in their role, or had experimented with AI tools.
Alongside this, children were also stated to be using AI tools. This varied from children being taught in classes how to use AI tools, to some teachers suspecting that children were using AI inappropriately or against organisational policy, including in assessed work.
How could AI be used in schools?
Some of the ways in which it’s envisaged that AI could benefit the education sector include teachers being able to utilise AI to create educational resources, including resources for individual students. Other respondents also cited using AI for lesson and curriculum planning, and more broadly streamlining time-intensive administrative tasks.
Some teachers have also experimented with using AI to automate marking and to generate feedback on students’ work. With the ever-increasing workload placed upon schools, streamlining these day-to-day tasks may help to ensure efficiency in the sector.
However, there is a risk of over-reliance on AI tools among pupils in completing work, and academic misconduct among pupils and students, along with data protection and privacy risks. There are also questions as to the extent to which AI could potentially replace face-to-face teaching. The digital divide, whereby some children do not have access to devices or stable internet which are necessary to use AI, is also likely to be exacerbated.
The DfE has acknowledged that the call for evidence demonstrates a need for increased support for schools to ensure the safe and effective adoption of AI in education. Some of the support which would be necessary includes training and guidance provision, improved digital infrastructure in schools, regulation around data protection, and reforms to curricula and assessment.
It’s clear that the DfE is keen to embrace AI in the sector. In October 2023, the government announced an additional investment of up to £2m in Oak National Academy to create new teaching tools using AI. This was followed by a two-day ‘hackathon’ hosted by the DfE in collaboration with Faculty AI, the National Institute of Teaching, which brought together teachers, leaders, students and technology experts to experiment with AI.
The DfE has confirmed that it will use the information gathered to shape its future policy in regards to AI in education, including how the sector can best optimise the opportunities of AI, whilst ensuring that the risks that it brings are minimised. In spring, the DfE will publish the results of the hackathon, further supporting the work to understand how AI could sensibly transform the education sector.