Government cautiously talks up the benefits of AI in education

  • Speaking at the Department of Basic Education’s Lekgotla this week, deputy minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Buti Manamela spoke on AI.
  • The deputy minister highlighted the potential benefits of AI in the classroom including moulding a child’s education to their specific needs.
  • The deputy minister also advised that AI needs to be implement with key aspects such as the risk of job losses in mind.

Artificial intelligence’s involvement in education has been mostly negative so far. The technology has enabled students to outsource thinking and learning when it’s used to do their work.

However, as AI has evolved over the last two years, it’s increasingly being seen as a tool that can complement a variety of sectors, including education. More so, there is a growing push to teach skills AI skills at all levels of schooling as the technology further cements itself into our lives.

And interestingly, South African government officials are paying attention to the trend as evidenced by deputy minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Buti Manamela’s speech at the Department of Basic Education’s Lekgotla earlier this week.

“Traditional educational paradigms are undergoing a seismic shift, as AI-driven tools and platforms augment and, in some cases, replace conventional methods of teaching and learning. Intelligent tutoring systems, adaptive learning algorithms, and personalised educational experiences powered by AI have the potential to cater to the unique needs and learning styles of individual students, fostering a more inclusive and effective educational environment,” said Manamela.

While ChatGPT may be known for helping students write essays, the tech has its place in the classroom. Thanks to the massive corpus of data OpenAI uses, ChatGPT can assist with research and even help explain complex topics. Tools such as Grammarly use AI to help with spelling, grammar and punctuation. can help students transcribe recordings they take while in class.

When it comes to teaching, AI can help with the analysis of student data that could help spot trends in learning patterns more easily and address problems earlier.

As Manamela highlights though, we must be aware of the implications AI has on our world, particularly as it relates to job losses. One way to address this loss of jobs is to incorporate AI into our education mix.

“Automation driven by AI technologies has already begun to reshape the labour market, with routine tasks increasingly being performed by machines, while the demand for skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and digital literacy continues to rise. While this shift may lead to displacement in certain sectors, it also presents unprecedented opportunities for innovation, entrepreneurship, and the creation of new forms of employment. However, preparing the workforce of tomorrow for the realities of the AI-driven economy requires a concerted effort to promote lifelong learning, upskilling, and reskilling initiatives that empower individuals to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing job landscape,” the deputy minister said.

It’s comforting to know that government is adopting a measured approach to AI adoption but, this needs to translate to legislative action as well.

As Manamela rightfully points out, AI has the potential to reshape every aspect of our society and frankly, we can’t trust profit-seeking companies to police themselves. It also doesn’t help if government drags its feet when it comes to regulating AI. In the unlikely event that AI is a passing fad similar to cryptocurrency, NFTs and the metaverse, there is potential for it to be used to exploit folks before the exploiters can be held accountable.

We fully agree that AI has incredible potential for a number of sectors, including education, but let’s not jump the shark and find ourselves staring at classrooms full of children overseen by disembodied voices.

[Image – Element5 Digital on Unsplash]


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