Navigating The AI Revolution Shaping The Future Of Education

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When it comes to rapid technological advancements, Artificial Intelligence has so far proven that the dawn of a new era is upon us. This is more-so the case for education which appears to be among the sectors that are poised for disruption by the development of various types of AI.

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Technological developments, which have resulted in the evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI), have been further accelerated by a specific type of AI tool known as Natural Language Processor (NLP). This is a type of generative AI tool that is used to process and understand human language, such as Open AI’s Chat GPT.

AI's Potential For Personalised Learning

These Generative AI tools can enhance personalised learning by analyzing a student’s learning patterns, strengths, and weaknesses, allowing educators to tailor their teaching methods to individual needs. This can potentially lead to more efficient and interesting educational experiences.

Platforms for adaptive learning could modify their pace and material to improve learner outcomes. These AI systems provide a back-and-forth conversational style of teaching tailored to the student.

Currently, if a student is falling behind on a particular subject, this affects their confidence and performance in the rest of that subject. With AI, students can have unlimited training and instruction until they master that particular area.

AI in Basic Education Promise and Challenges

In an age when economic uncertainty has become more prevalent, pursuing a tertiary qualification has always been a form of ensuring that one ends up on the right side of the labour market. This then naturally begs the question of whether pursuing a traditional tertiary degree is still worth it in an age when these AI-driven tools can answer questions on any topic.

For its part, the Department of Basic Education introduced Coding and Robotics to the country’s school curriculum for Grades R to 3 for 2023. The first pilot of this effort by the department initially began during the third term of 2021.

Nicola Killops, who is an Education and Media Specialist and Senior Partner at Render Creative, says that the education sector has always been positioned for evolution and adaptation. However, she also believes that if the existing inequality in South Africa’s basic education continues unaddressed, AI development will only widen the gap.

All it is going to do is broaden the divide because there are more private schools and now middle-class families would rather work extra hard to keep their children in private schools because the government school system is not adequate to accept for a handful.

She goes on to say that financially advantaged schools will find it a lot easier to integrate AI into their systems, while those who are under-resourced may encounter challenges in doing the same. A noteworthy example of this is the resource disparity between learners during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, a period when teaching and learning were in part conducted online.

It is worth noting that there is a trade-off, in that most learners have simply started copying and pasting information given to them by AI without actually reading or understanding any of it. This raises concerns that this might cause learners to lose interest in learning anything.

Killops notes that although the output of the generative AI systems may not be accurate, they are likely to improve within the next few years. The resulting consequence is that those who do not embrace it may find themselves falling behind. 
While speaking at the 2023 Higher Education World Forum Ministerial Exchange Session on Artificial Intelligence in May, Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande acknowledged the need to incorporate artificial intelligence into education and training.

The Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation is leading in the 2019 - 2024 Medium-Term Strategic Framework, and the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training acknowledges the need to incorporate AI into education and training provision. 

Adding that it is crucial to implement AI responsibly and ethically, focusing on enhancing the teaching and learning experience for all students. Currently, universities, such as the University Witwatersrand and the University Johannesburg do offer courses in AI mainly as a branch of computer science.

Killops further points out that the focus on content-heavy curricula and rote memorization could be reassessed, with educators redirecting their efforts towards nurturing critical thinking skills and practical problem-solving abilities.

“The biggest flaw with our current primary school curriculum is that it is too content-heavy. Teachers focus on completing a chapter as quickly as possible. They should rather focus on skills-based education and teaching critical thinking. Merely teaching content and facts is not education”

A Need to Prioritize Critical Thinking and Lifelong Learning 

Critical thinking skills can be transferable across various industries and are less likely to be replaced by AI systems. Additionally, diverse learning experiences. A university degree offers students exposure to diverse subjects and learning experiences.

This should foster a well-rounded understanding of the world and promote lifelong learning. This broad perspective can be beneficial in a constantly changing job market, where adaptability is key.

Finally, networking opportunities. Universities provide students with opportunities to build networks and establish connections with peers, faculty, and industry professionals.

These interpersonal relationships can prove invaluable when navigating the job market and advancing one's career. Collaboration and communication skills are often found at universities, and they are a very important skill that can't be replaced with AI, at least not yet.

With a ban on AI systems being impractical, universities are battling an arms race against intelligent systems. In some ways, they can help students and even the university can be more efficient.

But on the other hand, it's a giant wake-up call for traditional education. Memorising and information retention will have to be replaced with hands-on interactive and critical thinking methods of teaching.

So although there is still a need for a lot of the skills that universities provide, it's still useful for those considering what to study, to think carefully about what aspects of their career could be replaced with AI. It's uncomfortable but prudent.

For those who are STEM-focused, universities may find it useful to include sections of the curriculum that include neural networks and computer science aspects.

Suggested Article:

technology in classroom

In this topical opinion piece by Adam Fairall of Reddam House Atlantic Seaboard, he looks at the impact of Chat GPT, machine learning and other tools that have the potential to disrupt the education sector and shares his opinion on how it should be embraced by teachers to enhance the quality of teaching and to allow students to think more creatively, diversely, and ultimately spend more time applying knowledge.


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