AI could enable students to set the pace of their learning and the areas that they want to study Image Credit: Shutterstock

In October 2017, the UAE became the world’s first nation to have a Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence (AI). Education is one of the key sectors in the government’s new AI strategy, and the goal is to not only to reduce costs but also to enhance the desire among students to learn.

Schools will no doubt play a crucial role in turning the UAE into, as His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, described it, “the world’s most prepared country for artificial intelligence”.

Aparna Verma, Founder of Clarion School, points out that one of the most important questions educators face is: How do we prepare students for tomorrow, given the changing demands of a rapidly evolving modern world?

“Artificial intelligence is the latest disruption to our ecosystem, but one whose value is driven by not just enhancing human productivity but by replacing it. Hence, our children must be prepared for a world that will be vastly different to the one they are growing up in.” Verma also cautions that teaching AI or being ready for the future won’t be about equipping schools with fancy tech toys or pushing in coding programmes. “We believe the role of a school should focus on developing a child’s toolkit to learn, a desire to learn and an enjoyment of the process of learning.

“Simply put, let us not give our children a few fish but teach them how to fish.”

“We believe the role of a school should focus on developing a child’s toolkit to learn, a desire to learn and an enjoyment of the process of learning. Simply put, let us not give our children a few fish but teach them how to fish.

- Aparna Verma, Founder of Clarion School

AI in education

Lisa Ripperger, Principal of Clarion School, Dubai, adds that AI opens a new world of challenges and intrigue for schools everywhere. “One of the more vexing issues is what to do with it and what to teach about it.” She notes that AI is no longer a predictable system bound by the rules programmed into it. Instead, it has evolved into a self-learning system that is capable of taking independent decisions.

We will need a great leap forward to be ready for this brave new world.

- Lisa Ripperger, Principal of Clarion School, Dubai

“If a machine can now begin to learn on its own and create new knowledge, educators truly have a new and wonderful challenge in preparing children for a world where machines can learn fast and chalk and talk will not do the trick in the modern classroom,” she says. “We will need a great leap forward to be ready for this brave new world.”

Benjamin Atkins, Deputy Head Teacher, Sunmarke School, also feels that AI could have fantastic results in education if developed and used correctly. “There is a great gap in the market for high-quality products that offer an immersive and adaptive learning approach,” he says.

AI could enable students to set the pace of their learning and the areas that they want to study. It could even be used to personalise texts, questions and resources to the ability of the learner, while simultaneously feeding back progress, results and data to the teacher. “This would further enhance the work schools have been doing to develop a truly inclusive education.”

There is a great gap in the market for high-quality products that offer an immersive and adaptive learning approach.

- Benjamin Atkins, Deputy Head Teacher, Sunmarke School

Research agency Global Market Insight states that the influx of innovative learning models and technologies, such as educational software, machine learning and AI, has changed the role of educators, created a shift in teaching methods and transformed the classroom. In a recent analysis, it predicts the growth of AI in the education market will be driven by the integration of the intelligent tutoring system in the learning process. Overall, AI in the education market is expected to surpass $6 billion (Dh22 billion) by 2024, up from $400 million in 2017.

However, Atkins warns that educators have to be careful about not relying too much on AI — students need the personal touch and support of a teacher.

“Many adults remember their teachers from school and the impact they had on their lives; not many actually remember what content those teachers taught them.”

This leads us to wonder: Will future students fondly remember the AI that taught them?

AI in Indian schools

India’s Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), which has 21,405 schools affiliated to it globally — including more than 70 in the UAE — has announced that from this academic year, AI will be available as an optional subject to grades 8, 9 and 10 students. A key goal is to prepare students for the upcoming AI-triggered seismic shifts in the jobs market — for instance, World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2018 report estimates that AI will make 75 million roles redundant by 2022, but also create 133 million new opportunities.

A detailed syllabus is being ironed out, and CBSE is working closely with experts and various schools to address the twin challenges of getting the infrastructure ready for AI education, as well as finding qualified teachers in enough numbers.

— D.K.