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Is AI really good for schools?

While artificial intelligence can help lecturers by taking over simpler tasks, developing creativity in schools must be priority

The announcement of a pilot programme by Ngee Ann Polytechnic that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to assess student applications comes as a refreshing development in the local education landscape.

The platform, an AI assistant known as EVA, will be employed to read write-ups as part of the Early Admission Exercise and interact with candidates through online chat to understand their aptitude and competencies.

How will this impact students and their educators and what constitutes a balanced use of AI in classrooms?

One of the most successful applications of AI in education to date is Jill Watson.

An AI assistant built on IBM's Watson platform, Jill was developed in 2016 by computer scientist Ashok Goel and a group of Georgia Tech graduate students to respond to questions in a course discussion board.

Using natural language processes to analyse structures and extract meaning beyond simple key word recognition, Jill was able to interact with more than 400 students and answer at least 40 per cent of approximately 10,000 questions asked.

Jill operated so smoothly that a significant number of students did not realise that Jill was not human and found her to be helpful and smart.

The objective of implementing AI systems in schools is to help lecturers save time by taking over simpler tasks, allowing them to focus on work that requires the human touch.

We are still far from an AI assistant with human abilities.

But with machine strengths such as speed, accuracy, prediction and scalability, it is not difficult to see why the idea of using technology to complete repetitive tasks can be attractive.

AI is meant to complement the human race. While the technology can perform some tasks with higher efficiency and accuracy, human powers like soft skills are so intricate and complex to imitate, they remain all the more crucial and relevant.

Social intelligence and its meta aspect that helps us develop an awareness of our social relationships and reactions to circumstances is one of the key human elements missing in the existing AI models and technologies.

Another area out of reach to the current AI technology is creativity, because human creativity and creative achievements are so deeply embedded in social systems and group knowledge.

Because they are areas that AI cannot yet handle, creating opportunities for appropriate social interactions and for creative souls to be developed in a school setting must continue to be a priority.

The risks of offloading processes to AI without meticulously analysing the side effects can be high, particularly when it comes to educating the next generation of a nation.

To ensure we have considered all perspectives, we should ask questions such as what might some of the system's unintended consequences be?

Does the AI design and algorithm carry diversity and inclusion at its core? Where will the collected data sit?

AI definitely presents a great opportunity to automate the work and humanise the job, but only if we have analysed all aspects of the existing systems to safeguard uniquely human processes, and are prudent in introducing AI to improve education and the experience of it.

The writer is acting assistant director and digital technologist, professional development centre, British Council Singapore.

Education