I’m no expert; I’m sure many of my thoughts (and they are thoughts, not facts) will be overly simplistic and verging on ignorant. The only thing I profess to be is an experienced secondary school teacher. Which, of course, really means nothing more than I’m used to having large groups of captive audiences forced to listen to my opinion, giving me an inflated sense of self-importance. So this is my important opinion, listen up, and focus; yes, it may be included in the end-of-year test, and if I suspect your focus is drifting, it will affect your effort grade.
So here I go. Get ready for controversy.
Staffrooms, SLT meetings, and online Teacher forums have become battlegrounds; the lines have been drawn. Are you pro AI in education, or are you anti? A chatgpt’er or an openAI hater. Like iPhone, there seems to be no middle ground; you either use it and defend it to the death or despise it and roll your eyes and switch off when you hear people talking about it.
I’m pro. However, I’m not pro AI full stop; like many others, I’ve seen the experts giving the warnings. I’ve rewatched Terminator, and like everyone else, I’m worried ‘Skynet’ could have me hiding underground in the not-too-distant future, and my son could turn out to be my dad or something like that. However, while it’s here, and it clearly is here, I believe it’s educators’ job to educate about it. I’m pro enough to say that in its current form, if it’s used correctly, the potential to improve the quality of education we deliver is unarguable- You see, I’m wrong already as arguing is precisely what you are all doing. But fear not; I’m here to correct you, all of you. I’ll settle the argument once and for all, as, like most teachers, I hold the winning card, the unbeatable debate solver; I’m quite happy to run into break time.
Let’s get started.
Over and over again, I find myself surrounded by educators, likely possessing wisdom far exceeding my own, voicing the same three concerns. So, I’ve decided it’s high time to demonstrate the true depths of my ignorance by tackling these issues head-on!
1. ‘It doesn’t replace a teacher; learning how to spell is more important.’
Of course it doesn’t! Who said it did?! No one in the right mind would tell you no longer need to learn grammar, spelling, or maths. It’s the addition to these, not a replacement. Little Timmy, in year 4 is still learning how to do long division by hand, and it’s a few years since a calculator was invented. Those skills are the foundations, the building blocks. They are essential; AI is the stretch and extent, the solar panel on the roof. Like everything in life, you need balance. Some tasks will allow AI, while others won’t; educators need to spot the opportunity to use it and know when not to.
2.’The US College Board has categorically prohibited it. Why would we teach it then?’
This argument genuinely loses me, and not only because I’m from Britain, so I don’t really know who they are. However, surely education prepares humans for life, not university? Businesses, hospitals, and hotels all expect their workers to grasp technology and aren’t degrees, just nice shiny, very expensive badges that say, ‘Pick me, I’ll do a good job’. The shiny badge that I bought 20 years ago and financed with a student loan takes money out of my monthly salary, not pays into it.
Equally, why would universities want to ban it? They include our brightest minds, who are at the forefront of finding solutions to the planet’s problems. Our last great hope. Does the human race really care that much about the route to the solution or the solution itself? If someone uses AI to find a solution to climate change or cancer, would we not use it because they “cheated’ in their research? Would we instead write a note to their parents explaining what a very naughty boy or girl they’ve been and put it in the bin? Life isn’t a test; the tests we set at school and university are only a tool to be formative and encourage greater learning or summative to demonstrate a higher level of skill or ability—a shiny badge. What the world really needs is innovators and problem solvers.
3. And the biggest of all. ‘It’s unfair you can’t know if someone has cheated.’
Well, you got me. Currently, this is true, and even with talk of watermarking response, it seems it may always be true. You win…but hang on, it’s true, it’s not fair, but when has education ever been fair?
Now I know the bell has gone, and it’s time for lunch, but this is one of my favourite topics, so unpack those books; you work to me, not the bell.
So where was I…ah yes, fair
Well, education isn’t fair, and I’m not just talking about the private school vs public school debate.
So yes, children can get ChatGPT to answer their homework and print it (although sadly it still can’t get them to write their name on it or stick it in their books, yet)
But, when have we ever expected anything other than a test to be considered fair? Are schools and exam boards like Cambridge and Edexcel wasting hundreds of millions each year regulating external exams for no reason? Why don’t they just let the children take the exam home? The answer is, because at home, you can cheat. This existed long before AI and long before the internet. Every experienced teacher knows that anything that isn’t produced in anything other than the strictest exam conditions needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Not true, you say…coursework, personal statements. Oh, well, yes, but guess what? Most organisations don’t trust them. Universities are moving away from personal statements, and coursework has been faded out of many subjects. It’s pretty simple if you want to know exactly what a person can do unaided, we can’t get passed the good old ‘in-person exam.’
Secondly, and this is a subject close to my heart, the learning process generally isn’t fair. Bloom discovered in 1984 that students who received one-on-one tutoring performed two standard deviations better than those learning via conventional methods. If you don’t know how much that is, it’s a lot; Google it, or for a ‘fairer’ method, look it up in your encyclopedia. I digress. Anyway, I was lucky; both my parents are teachers; when I was stuck with schoolwork, they helped me, they explained. They didn’t do my homework for me, they ‘tutored’ me, they nagged me, and they stressed the importance of education. Many far brighter children in my class, I’m sure, weren’t so lucky. Their parents may not have had the time or the ability, or the inclination to help their children. I don’t suggest for a second that this meant they didn’t achieve far better things than myself, only that I probably ‘achieved’ far more than my small little brain should have fairly produced.
Nowadays, as a teacher at an international school in Spain teaching the British system, I feel the importance of parental support more strongly than ever. Many of our parents don’t speak English and have no idea what IGCSEs or A-levels are, and therefore most of my pupils are left stranded and unsupported once they leave the classroom. That’s fair; I hear you cry, but is it? They are sitting in global exams competing against people with parents who speak English and know the system. What’s more, with the existence of tutoring and the growth of online tutoring, parents who can afford it (and with prices skyrocketing- they really do need to be able to afford it) can pay to get the personalised 1-2-1 help that Bloom recommends. It struck me over a year ago that this didn’t seem to be very fair, and it’s the reason you are probably reading this on the Ecmtutors website. It was my attempt to make the system a little fairer and ensure that ‘Every Child’ had some access to 1-2-1 support outside of the school day, not just the super wealthy ones.
However, let’s return to the subject matter. AI is unfair? It can help with their homework and suggest improvements to their writing. Yes, it can, it can do some of the things my parents did for me, but it currently does this for free and is available to any child who has the internet and whose teacher has taken the time to show them how to use it. So it is unfair, you’re right; the poor children whose teachers refuse to acknowledge its potential and integrate it into their teaching will be left behind. Well done you; I hope you’re proud of yourself.
Alright, I’ve reached the end of my sermon on the mount, and while I would love to say I’ve settled this AI showdown once and for all, I’m realistic. The truth is, I’m just another voice shouting in the staff room, likely drowning in the chorus of counterarguments, most of which I’ve probably not even grasped fully. Data protection, the digital divide, lack of personal connection, I know, I know. So, I guess the war of words will continue, the staff room will still resemble a battleground, and we’ll keep having debates that run into our precious lunch breaks. However, I anticipate a day when AI delivers a breakthrough so compelling that even the staunchest sceptics must reconsider their stance. It may seem far-fetched, but let’s imagine, if you will, the day when AI introduces a photocopier that is actually working when you need it the most.
For a more serious look at AI, try here.