DfE sets up group to explore benefits of AI in the classroom

Ministers have launched a new group to explore the benefits artificial intelligence can bring to the classroom.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said the impact of AI technologies in the classroom “still remains largely unevidenced”, and wants to find out more about how it can help schools.

Responding to a written parliamentary question from the Conservative MP David Davis, Gibb said a new AI horizon scanning group has been launched to help Department for Education’s policy, digital and delivery teams “explore how AI may impact our policies, as well as the benefits it can bring to the education system”.

Davis asked what assessment the DfE has made of “the potential benefit of artificial intelligence in the classroom”.

In response, Gibb, said AI was a “complex, emerging area”, and said his department “has seen some outstanding examples of AI and machine learning being used within schools and colleges in England to support teachers to deliver curriculum content as well as to automate burdensome non-teaching tasks such as marking”.

No further details of the AI horizon scanning group have been announced.

The emergence of AI has prompted a fierce debate in English education over whether a knowledge-based curriculum is still appropriate for children who will potentially have to compete with robots and other AI technology in a future jobs market.

Last year, Rose Luckin, professor of learner-centred design at UCL, told the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference that teaching a knowledge-based curriculum is “naive” because it imparts facts in a shallow way, leaving pupils unable to compete with systems that can recall facts much faster.

Instead, she said pupils should be taught to be self-reflective about their knowledge, a method she called “meta-knowing”.

But her views on knowledge were rejected by some academics, including Carl Hendrick, the head of research at Wellington College, who argued that without knowledge there can be no meaningful analysis and warned that narratives around technology, AI and a fourth industrial revolution heralded “a troubling era for the teaching profession”

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  1. As already announced, the Treasury is providing £30m for ‘Innovative EdTech and AI’ for online distance learning over two years with delivery from 2019/20.
    DfE commercial pipeline info says that after discussing this with the Treasury, the DfE is ‘considering’ using part of the £30m to launch ‘competition funds’ which could ‘stimulate the AI and EdTech markets.’

    It’s unclear whether the resulting ‘market’ would provide tools for properly-trained teachers to use effectively when desirable or whether they will replace such teachers.