International Council of Education Advisers: third report 2021-2023

This is the third formal report of the ICEA relating to their third two-year term (2021-2023) of work.

Strategic Area 6: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Digital World

The emergence of Chat GPT in late 2022 has seen a huge interest in the promise, benefits, cautions and inevitable challenges of this disruptive technology. It is already evident that Artificial Intelligence (AI) provides amazing opportunities and new challenges for education. Governments and educators must now act quickly to maximise the positive effects and manage the risks for the benefit of young people and adults alike. As Suleyman (2023) puts it, AI is part of a “coming wave” of technological advancements, touted as one which will “force us to confront the most fundamental questions our species has ever faced”.

AI is big business and therefore driven by commercial imperatives. Generative AI is able to generate high quality work, which is difficult to distinguish from human work, and indeed is able to surpass the average human ability in many areas (c.f. Hargreaves, 2023). Major corporations are already developing educational applications using AI. Therefore, the question is not whether AI will impact on education but how we can ensure that AI supports the purposes and values of Scottish education and within a clear and coherent educational strategy and framework. The young people in our schools today will learn and live through this wave. Whether they could ride the wave or be drowned in it will be shaped significantly by what they learn and experience in their school today.

AI has huge potential to free schools from some of the constraints associated with mass education. For teachers, it can cut through many of the administrative, routine assessment, and basic curriculum planning tasks that have diverted time and expertise from teaching and learning. In these ways it can support the wellbeing of pupils and teachers. It may also provide adaptive feedback about the learning of individual pupils that will allow direct support to individuals in real time. For the young people themselves, it can provide access to sources of personalised support for their learning in ways that are less constrained by the pace of the class and the rhythm of the school day. AI can also contribute directly to our understanding of the impact of education policy and practice. Its ability to interrogate massive data sets can provide fresh insights into desirable future policy directions.

On the side of caution, concerns with AI range across isolation, plagiarism, cheating, privacy and intellectual property infringement, and the end of intrinsic learning motivation (since one can simply use AI to generate a piece of work). There are also concerns whether many of the traditional functions of human teachers will be taken over by machines. Moreover, as the world becomes more and more digital, there are those who will yearn for a more human world of real experiences, relationships, and spaces - a point made in, for example, Sax’s (2022) “The Future is Analog”.

Perhaps, the important point now is to be prepared for a shift in the education paradigm and to ask fundamental questions rather than to be beguiled by the excitement that AI is currently generating. In Singapore, Ng (2023) advocates asking educators to reflect on what real intelligence is (now that artificial intelligence has arrived), and for attention to be directed towards the use of AI to enhance the development of real human intelligence, not just how we can use artificial intelligence to do our current work more efficiently or effectively. Therefore, policy and practice will need to strike a good balance between the need to move quickly as technological innovation accelerates, and maintaining a firm grasp on the fundamental purposes and values that characterise education in Scotland. If young people develop skills that compete with AI, they will inevitably lose out in the competition for future employment. The challenge for policy and practice is to focus on the unique aspects of human intelligence that can work with and through technology. The importance of a school as a community was highlighted during lockdowns and moves towards greater use of AI should not undermine this crucial social and developmental function.

Against this backdrop, we propose that Scottish Government should immediately set in train work to learn more about, discuss, debate, make key actionable recommendations on the potential, promise, applicability and cautions of AI in education, soliciting and incorporating student and teacher input. There will also be an immediate need for systematic professional learning to build educators’ ability and confidence to use AI in their teaching, learning, leadership, assessment practices and daily tasks.

A useful starting point will be work already done by international organisations. For example, a UNESCO Guide for Generative Use of AI in Education and Research locates the emerging pros and cons of AI use in relation to a set of core principles. It quotes the UK Russell Group of leading research universities in arguing that “students and staff need to be supported in using GenAI tools effectively, ethically and transparently”. It is especially concerned that the use of AIdoes not undermine student human rights nor disempower teachers” and must “protect human dignity and the cultural diversity that defines the knowledge commons”. In the end, it advocates for a “human-centred” approach to AI use. Rather than banning AI tools in educational institutions (the initial response of many systems), it sets out eight guidelines for AI use. These might be a helpful template for AI policy and practice in Scotland.

  • Promote inclusion, equity, linguistic and cultural diversity.
  • Protect human agency.
  • Monitor and validate AI systems.
  • Develop AI competencies for children and young people.
  • Build capacity for teachers and researchers to make proper use of AI.
  • Promote plural opinions and plural expressions of ideas.
  • Test locally relevant application models and build a cumulative evidence base.
  • Review long-term implications.

The implications for the school curriculum will also need to be addressed. Digital literacy, news literacy and citizenship development will be essential components of the school curriculum going forward if the proliferation of fake news, conspiracy theories, and student engagement with social media are to be addressed. The existing emphasis in CfE on the ability to be creative and to apply learning will assume even greater importance as will the ability to influence decision making and seek solutions in the face of complexity. Also, while AI can improve effectiveness, efficiency, and accessibility of learning, it is important for Scotland to plan for other impacts, especially those affecting the morale of the teaching profession.

Specific Recommendations

1. The Scottish Government should urgently explore the implications of AI for education to identify related curriculum and professional learning policy developments, and work with universities, teachers’ organisations, business, parents, students and community, to support measured implementation.

2. The established policy commitment to address inequality in education should also take account of the likelihood of an increasing digital divide associated with access to AI.



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