04 September, 2023

Artificial Intelligence and education. Our perspective

Artificial Intelligence and education

If you’re about to start reading this article – spoiler alert – it wasn’t written by ChatGPT.

ChatGPT has made AI feel, well, real. In the blink of an eye awkward AI generated writing has now become more sophisticated and life-like. It’s almost, but not quite, like the real thing.

But, what do we think as educators?

In our view, the ship set sail a long time ago. Debating whether AI is a threat, an opportunity or both – doesn’t help students. It’s here, it’s here to stay and it’ll only get more sophisticated.

All of this means it’s vital – as educators – we continue to help our students get ready to adapt for whatever the future throws at them, whether that’s AGI or the next big thing.  To equate AI to ChatGPT misses the point. It’s one of hundreds, if not thousands, of tools.

Framed against all of this, we’re taking a thoughtful and considered approach to how we use AI in our schools, so we help students understand its upsides and downsides. Why? Because AI is clearly a hugely powerful technology with advantages and unintended consequences that our students need know about. 

In our view, it’s our job to help students carefully understand how to use developments in AI to benefit their learning and working lives. And we’redoing this in four ways.

1. Human intelligence and artificial intelligence are powerfully complementary.

It’s no longer an either / or conversation. We’re focused on teaching our students durable human skills that can’t become algorithms.

In our schools, this means developing students’ creativity, teamwork, resilience, and confidence. Irrespective of AI, these are skills our students – and employers – need more of, not less, in order to succeed. 

For example, at one of our schools in Abu Dhabi teachers are using AI to inspire critical thinking with students. They’re doing this by asking the AI to debate with students on certain topics as it’ll argue for any side of a debate and respond with counter arguments.  It’s an excellent way for students to see, up close, the skills they’ve got – teamwork, emotional intelligence, creativity and more – and really hone them. 

At Eton School in Mexico, students are using ChatGPT to interview historical figures – Aristotle and Hernán Cortés. They read the characters’ replies, summarise them, and then judge if the answers are accurate by comparing the information with their class notes and the information they’ve gathered from research. 

As one of the Head of Experimental Science at our school in Prague explained: “Students need to understand that generative AI is occasionally wrong, so we also need to teach them how it functions and how to make the most of it.”

We commissioned independent research looking at how Gen Z’ers from 18 to 25 years old felt their education had helped prepare them for the future. When it comes to being digitally fluent and using new technologies, only 54% of Gen Z’ers said their education had helped this in this area.

Now think about at this moment in time, and in the context of AI. It’s why:

2. We’re helping our students ‘get comfortable being uncomfortable’ with AI.

Instead of seeing it as a threat, we’re teaching them how to use AI so the odds are stacked in their favour by honing critical thinking – another durable human skill. To not simply accept AI without question or challenge, to know how it uses information, and to have the confidence to know how and when to use it.

For example, at the British International School Chicago South Loop, our International Baccalaureate (IB) students are studying ChatGPT’s language acquisition capabilities and whether it can ever truly replace a speaker of a foreign language. By comparing and contrasting AI-generated and student written texts tackling the same question, students concluded that the technology provides a solid foundation for text to be enhanced with native language skills. It was clear to students that the AI generated response lacked the emotional intelligence, nuance and ‘soul’ of theirs.

In Abu Dhabi at our British International School, students are exploring machine-learning and the basics of AI. Teachers are helping students lift the lid on its opportunities, challenges, and limitations. Meanwhile, children in Key Stage 3 are introduced to the basics of AI in learning exercises through our collaboration with MIT, as a way of developing their understanding of the differences between human and artificial intelligence.  It’s a powerful exercise, helping young minds figure out how to best to work with AI.

As one of our teachers at the school explained: “You can replace the word AI with algorithmic statistics, because, in effect, what you’re doing is looking at the probability of what’s happened in the past in order to predict the future, and people often call that AI. We teach that to the students as a core skill.”

Meanwhile, at Dover Court in Singapore, Business Studies classes are using AI to create ‘model’ answers and students then critique and look to edit and improve the answers. It’s another example of how we’re teaching students to not simply accept what AI generates, and to confidently challenge its answers and logic.

3. We’re working with Professor Rose Luckin, one of the world’s leading authorities on AI in education.

We're working with Professor Rose Luckin to use AI to help our students better understand themselves as learners – how they learn and why, also known as ‘metacognition’.

AI is – in our view – a powerful learning tool. Used properly, it helps students make informed choices about how they use their time to gain deeper knowledge their subjects by using AI to ‘offload’ other tasks that get in the way of learning.

In Professor Luckin’s opinion: There’s no question in my mind that to flourish in our AI-rich world students need to learn mastery of their own thinking processes as well as a level of mastery of new technologies. This means they need to develop advanced thinking skills such as metacognition. This will not only ensure that they are excellent at learning whatever they need and be able to apply that learning whenever they need it, but also that they can differentiate themselves from AI technologies whose metacognitive abilities are yet to get off the starting blocks.

4. As teachers we’re developing our own skills – and fast.

As a community of 10,000 Nord Anglia teachers worldwide, we’re learning from each other on how to use Artificial Generative Intelligence – as one example – to support teaching and learning. And we’re sharing these ideas amongst us on Nord Anglia University, our professional learning platform.

We’re also looking externally too, from outside of our organisation to continually challenge our own ideas.   

Whatever happens next, we’ll make sure our students are ready. Challenge accepted.