Government officials from Slovenia and the United Arab Emirates participated in a panel discussion at the 2024 World Economic Forum on “Merging Education and AI: Artificial Intelligence as a Powerhouse of Economy and Society” along with leaders of two high-tech companies. Participants discussed “new opportunities for deeply personalized learning and individualized instruction'' as well as “unknown risks for today's learners in schools, universities, and the workplace.''
Moderator Nzinga Kunta (South African Broadcasting Corporation Anchor) summarized three key issues that arose during the panel discussion. AI learning extends beyond the classroom and is not defined by age or physical space. One must always be vigilant to eliminate bias in data collection. And perhaps most importantly, critical thinking is essential when evaluating AI.
Topics highlighted by panelists included AI tutoring, what and how we teach, and the general importance of critical thinking.
All four panelists were enthusiastic about using AI to provide personalized, scalable tutoring outside of the traditional classroom. Ahmed bin Abdullah Humaid Belhoul Al Falashi, UAE Minister of Education, asserted that “technology makes education scalable.” He explained that classes in the UAE have not been affected, but that “democratic tutoring”, which is available to everyone and is based on the UAE curriculum, is supplementing classroom teaching.
Al-Falasi said the success of tutoring is well documented, but not everyone can afford it. AI costs a fraction of the cost of a human teacher, and “the hardest part, the soft skills, is left to the teacher.” By limiting AI to tutoring outside of class, teachers may be replaced. You can also avoid any doubts.
AI itself is not stealing jobs.
A regularly mentioned risk is public resistance to AI, based on fears that humans will be replaced by computers. People must be made aware that their jobs will not be taken by AI, but by people who know how to use AI. This can be reassuring for teachers and an incentive for learners.
How and what we teach
Hadi Partovi, Founder and CEO of Code.org said: His company works with researchers at Stanford University to bring the latest thinking to pedagogy.
Al Farashi spoke from his experience teaching twin children with very different learning styles.
Student discussions provided examples of how lessons can be customized to suit learner interests. If the AI learns that a student is interested in soccer, examples of lessons provided by the company's service could be drawn from soccer.
More interestingly, this audience member pointed out that the panelists assumed that AI relies on computing devices and the Internet. His organization provides information to learners through text his messages. Although we did not have time to discuss this alternative, we did suggest a way to resolve the current bottleneck in information delivery.
Panelists also agreed that we need to change not only how we teach, but also what we teach. Slovenia's Minister of Digital Transformation Emilia Stoimenova Dou pointed out that only “half of the population” in Slovenia has the necessary digital skills “not only for work but also for everyday life.” She said there was a need to train “young people as well as school leavers”, including retirees, as women were underrepresented in the field. If the average person does not have basic digital skills, they cannot take advantage of AI.
Jeffrey R. Tarr, CEO of Skillsoft, emphasized the importance of employee learning. “Generative AI creates new skills gaps without even solving the original skills gap,” he says. AI will become a “new gateway to learning,” he argued. “Coaching is how we grow at the senior level,” said Tarr, who sees AI as a way to extend coaching to everyone.
Increasing STEM education will help people understand and utilize AI. An interesting point was made here about countries that are considered to be at a disadvantage in adapting AI. Young countries have an advantage because they don't have to revise a 200-year-old curriculum, Palthvi said.
The need for critical thinking
Swiss attendees highlighted the risks of misinformation and disinformation that can be amplified by AI. Duh and Partovi wholeheartedly agreed on the need for critical thinking.
Al Falasi gave an example of how critical thinking is being taught alongside AI in the UAE. Students will be assigned to use her ChatGPT. The class will then be asked to critically challenge the answers obtained using ChatGPT.
The risks of misinformation and disinformation go far beyond the use of AI in education. However, AI can make this risk much more dangerous, turning threats into opportunities. By acquiring AI skills, learners may find that they are acquiring an even more valuable skill: critical thinking.
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