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AI in education – trends and implications

While artificial intelligence (AI) is yet to permeate our lives on the scale seen in blockbuster movies such as I, Robot or Minority Report, it’s already widely deployed in numerous industries such as the gambling, car manufacturing, online gaming, technology, retail, health care, and financial services industries.

One sector it is tipped to disrupt next is education, long overdue for a shakeup in an era when students are being outperformed in core STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) by students in a large number of other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.

Key benefits of AI in the classroom

Traditional methods of teaching, or the “mass education” method (untailored to each student’s specific needs) are failing us.

AI’s benefits in the classroom include:

  • Bespoke learning: AI can be used to “data-mine” a cohort’s results – or an individual’s – to determine common areas requiring additional or tailored teaching. AI in the areas of language acquisition, math and science (subjects with more fixed rules than a more subjective subject, such as English literature) is already widely available in software applications for fixed PCs and mobile devices.
  • Universal access: Education AI holds great promise for helping disadvantaged students “close the gap,” and it can take many forms. For example, it might power apps that can deliver a school syllabus digitally, combining text with video or images; or allow disabled students, or those living in remote or rural areas, to better access educational resources. Further, global learning programs such as Mathletics or Duolingo enable students across the world to interact and learn in a virtual environment.
  • Freeing up teachers for more “human-centered” learning: With the rise of education AI and the ability to have an online tutor or knowledge repository that is attuned to your strengths and weaknesses available 24/7, teachers will be freed up to pass on human skills that AI can’t teach such as socialization, negotiation, and prioritization of tasks. With AI already capable of grading multiple-choice exams and running online-testing programs, educators have the potential to spend less time marking, and more time teaching.

Key concerns of AI in education

While AI has great potential to enhance the education sector, the following are some key concerns requiring further consideration by tech developers, governments, and educators globally:

  • Education AI can itself be disrupted: Machine-based learning is subject to the availability of internet connectivity and power, and vulnerable to hacking, viruses and systems, and software glitches.
  • Lack of integration between tech companies, governments, and educators: Where the technology companies behind the rise of education AI fail to take into account the concerns, methods, and findings of real-world educators and governments, the resulting technology may give rise to moral or ethical concerns.
  • Privacy and data security: As the rise of AI in education in the mainland Chinese contextdemonstrates, facial-recognition technology in the classroom can be used to track the engagement of students during class time. But the flip side of this is increased surveillance and data gathering on individuals, the implications of which are as yet unknown.

The rise of AI in education has vital implications for greater student and teacher support, and universal accessibility to educational resources. But tech companies, governments, and educators need to engage in greater dialogue and co-contribution to this burgeoning area of tech to ensure that education AI remains human-centered – or the future envisioned by science fiction blockbusters may result.