Andy Perryer, European Head of Digital Learning recently visited Southbank International School in Westminster, London on a number of occasions to talk to parents, staff and students. He reflects on a presentation he gave to staff members about artificial intelligence in education. 

“Embrace the ever-changing,” was a mantra I cherished during my time as a teacher. As I transitioned into a new role in Cognita in 2018, I questioned whether the same sentiment would hold as I stepped away from the classroom yet stayed intimately linked to those still at the forefront of education. With greater responsibility over a school system, I realised that not only were days unique, but each year brought its own set of challenges and opportunities. The ubiquitous access to AI in education (AIE), spearheaded by ChatGPT’s arrival in December, proved to be yet another turning point that reinforced the excitement of constant evolution in the educational landscape. “Strap in!”, I thought, as I sounded the ‘Embrace!’ klaxon.  

Over the past few months, I have had the distinct pleasure of delving into the world of AI in education, visiting schools across Europe, engaging in thought-provoking conversations with students, colleagues, and parents, writing up reports, and presenting to a diverse array of stakeholders within the organisation. Invariably, each discussion culminates in the same pressing question from them: How are we going to embrace this?”  

My recent visit to Southbank International School was no exception. The school had dedicated a staff briefing specifically to this topic, an event that had been planned since January. The past four months of collaboration with the school’s Principal, Deputy, and two dedicated colleagues led up to this event, all of whom worked tirelessly to support and make this session a success. I could not have asked for a more engaged and receptive audience.  

 The presentation covered several key aspects: 

  1. History of AI: We traced the development of AI from its early beginnings to the sophisticated systems we have today, exploring the impact AI has had on various industries, including education.
  1. The current landscape: We discussed the ways AI is being used in education, such as personalised learning and adaptive assessments, highlighting the potential benefits and challenges.
  1. AI risks: AI systems like GPT are based on mathematical models designed to predict the most likely word to follow a given sequence. This can create an illusion of intelligence, which could lead to Turing test-like difficulties in discerning between AI-generated content and human thought.
  1. Live student data: We shared from that week data on students’ perceptions of AI usage in their learning experiences and their awareness of how much AI is being used in their learning.
  1. Ethics of AI in education: We engaged in a lively discussion about when AI should be used in education and how to strike a balance between using AI as a tool to assist learning and preventing it from replacing thinking.

Staff members at Southbank were both excited and trepidatious about the role of AIE. They recognised the potential for AIE to improve accessibility of learning and support learners with English as an additional language but they also expressed worries about the impact of AI on critical thinking and the learning process. 

As one teacher pointed out, “Good writing is a result of good thinking. If AI replaces the writing, how do we become good thinkers?”

It’s essential to remember that AI’s influence extends beyond text generation; students can now generate images and music without a traditional creative process, raising further debates about where AI’s role sits in education. 

I spent time with students at Southbank to better understand how they currently use AIE and listen to their thoughts on whether it serves as an assistive or automated force in their learning. It is interesting to observe the International Baccalaureate’s prompt and progressive response to the incorporation of ChatGPT in students’ work. It is a promising start, and this is only the start of the conversation with these large educational bodies.  

By engaging with parents, students, and educators in these important discussions, we can work together to ensure that AI is thoughtfully integrated into education, maximising its benefits while preserving the essential aspects of human learning and creativity. Southbank International School is already setting a prime example by fostering such engagement and embracing a forward-thinking approach to AI in education.