More work is needed to understand the ‘risks’ that AI could pose – Education Secretary

More work is needed to understand the risks that artificial intelligence could pose to schools, colleges and universities, the Education Secretary will say.

Gillian Keegan will call on education leaders and technology experts to come forward with ideas on how generative artificial intelligence (AI) can be used in a positive way to support the education sector in the future.

In a speech at the London Tech Week conference, Ms Keegan will launch a call for evidence to ensure AI is used “in a safe and secure way” in education.

It comes after guidance from the UK’s major exam boards suggesting that schools should make pupils do some of their coursework “in class under direct supervision” amid cheating fears in the context of AI use.

ChatGPT is a form of generative AI that can respond to questions in a human-like manner and understand the context of follow-up queries, much like in human conversations, as well as being able to compose essays if asked – sparking fears it could be used by students to complete assignments.

In a speech to technology and education experts on Wednesday morning, Ms Keegan is expected to say: “Artificial intelligence is going to transform the world around us and help grow the economy.

“The workforce that is best equipped with the skills and knowledge they need will be the ones that ride the wave. We must make sure education is one of them.

“For that potential to be realized, we – the Government, our schools, colleges and universities – need to be able to understand those opportunities, as well as the real risks new technology brings.

“That’s why we want to start a conversation with experts from across education and technology to hear their views and learn from their experiences.

“This will help us make the right decisions to get the best out of generative AI in a safe and secure way.”

The Government is seeking views from education professionals across the schools, colleges, universities and early years sector on the benefits of technology, as well as the risks and ethical considerations.

Last month, BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, called for AI to be part of teacher training courses to help staff understand how students are using AI.

It came after a letter sent to The Times signed by more than 60 educational figures said schools are “bewildered” by the rate of change in AI.

The Government hopes the call for evidence, which will run until August 23, will provide a base to inform future work – including how AI could be used to reduce workload, improve outcomes, and run operations more efficiently, as well as work around such misuses as essay bots and cheating in exams.

The Education Secretary will also confirm that courses for the new Digital Functional Skills Qualifications (DFSQs) will begin in September, as well as the launch of a new Digital and Computing Skills Education Taskforce.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools and colleges are currently in an absolute state of crisis because of teacher shortages and government underfunding. There is a real and present danger of a significant risk to educational standards and provision because of the government’s shameful neglect of the education system.

“Artificial intelligence may have the potential to help in classroom learning in the future and support teachers in their work, but we really don’t know what that would look like and the Education Secretary must first focus on addressing the immediate issues of underfunding, and recruitment and retention.”

Sarah Hannafin, head of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The rapid advancement of artificial intelligence clearly has the potential to impact on education – in both positive and more concerning ways.

“It is good that this will be considered carefully, and any support related to the findings would be welcomed by schools who are currently dealing with issues as they arise in large part on their own.”

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