In a matter of years, artificial intelligence (AI) has transformed from a topic discussed in hypothetical terms to one that is now widely accepted as a trend that will impact on our collective future.
You are as likely to eavesdrop on a conversation about AI in a school corridor now as one is in a start-up incubator. This Spring’s Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) – a gathering of heads of the world’s leading independent schools – focused on the topic of “Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality in Education”. Topics up for discussion spanned everything from how blended human and artificial intelligence can support excellent teaching to how to translate AI into a tool that can be used in specific subject areas. With young people set to enter a world that is increasingly fast-paced and nebulous, school leaders face the enormous challenge of deciding how best to equip their students to thrive in a world about which little can be predicted.
Sir Anthony Seldon, former master of Wellington College and current vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, took to the podium at HMC to reflect on the implications of AI for education. Seldon is perhaps one of the most prominent voices in this debate, having recently published his latest book, The Fourth Education Revolution: Will Artificial Intelligence Liberate or Infantilise Humanity? The future that Seldon envisages is one in which AI facilitates individualised learning tailored to each child’s needs – liberating teachers’ time in a way virtually unimaginable under the current system.
There are a number of careful balancing acts schools need to perform when considering students’ relationship with technology. On the one hand, there is increasing pressure on schools to ensure students’ digital literacy. On the other, schools are under equal pressure to protect students from technology’s more problematic side – most notably, its potential detrimental impact on student well-being.
It seems that this same balancing act will need to be echoed in how schools embrace AI – incorporating those parts of the technology that can deepen students’ educational experience whilst also ensuring that real value is still placed on face time between teachers and students.
The hope is that the two will be symbiotic – that with the help of AI, teachers will be freed to focus on where they can add the greatest value as educators. How ironic if it is robots that finally bring us full circle — giving schools the freedom to prioritise the human connection between students and teachers and the extraordinary opportunities for learning that can result.
Sir Anthony Seldon
Sir Anthony Seldon