We need to harness AI as an educational tool for teachers and children, say experts at SCRF 2023

We need to harness AI as an educational tool for teachers and children, say experts at SCRF 2023

Educators and authors at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival discuss the controversies around AI, but agree that it is inevitable and here to stay 

Sharjah, May 10, 2023

ChatGPT is a trending subject of debate these days and AI’s capabilities are progressing at a rate yet incomprehensible to us humans. The impact of controversial, yet futuristic and powerful technologies on the providers and receivers of education has been discussion in-depth at the 14th Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF 2023) by a panel of experts from the fields of education and literature.

British children’s sci-fi and fantasy author Ross Welford, of Time Travelling with a Hamster fame, Emirati educator Dr Karima Matar Almazroui, and Egyptian publisher, author and editor Amal Farah discussed the pros and cons of letting AI play a role in education, curricula and children’s books, and the effects it could possibly have. Dr Almazroui, with her long-term experience in education, is all for adopting AI and putting it to good use. “In the 1990s, the then-new phenomenon of the internet faced a lot of resistance too, but it is now a vital part of children’s learning and education. Similarly, AI too comes with a package of opportunities. If kids are already using ChatGPT in their assignments, why not put it to better use?” she said.

Using AI to improve educational opportunities and outcomes by helping children read and write based on their proficiency and interests, is the way forward, according to her. “AI can cater to students with interest, immersion, personalisation, accommodation and assimilation for a good experience. It gives them the academic support to be independent learners and can take the burden off teachers. Previously, kids learnt by memorising, now they can use AI to engage and interact with and develop a ‘researcher’ brain, improving their critical thinking and competencies.”

Taking a cautious view of AI adoption and use, and in the wake of scientist Geoffrey Hinton’s recent departure from Google citing the dangers of AI, Welford said, “It’s a very pessimistic view and I don’t blame it. While I do not think that AI will create killer robots to wipe us all out, I do see it coming to a point where an awful lot of things we take for granted will be done by machines, in terms of creative contribution. But I think we’re also flattering ourselves as creators if we feel that it matters. The Lion King, for instance, was created by a committee of writers and animated by machines and 30 years on, as popular as the film remains, no one knows who its creators are. So regardless of what we feel, AI could well be on its way to mass adoption.”

Treading a moderate view of AI’s role in education, Farah tread a view where she neither supported or opposed its use. “I think education experts may be fearful of AI at the moment, because our view of education and syllabi are structured a certain way,” Farah said. “If you think about it, in the medieval era, scientists were executed for their theories and libraries burned down, so in a way our attitudes to technology or AI are the same reaction or response – we are just sceptical of something new or untested, but it doesn’t mean it is wrong.”

Stating that the world of AI can truly amaze us, she cited a few examples of its use, such as reading and condensing journals and materials which teachers don’t have the time to do, using it as an interactive tool and immersive environment to help with learning, using it to learn languages and taking us virtually to settings such as a supermarket where we would need to practice the language with the ‘staff’ in real-time, etc. Concerning the risks and dangers of AI use, we need to put systems and policies in place similar to what cybersecurity rules did for the internet, which will take time, she said.

Pointing out that the gramophone didn’t kill the music orchestra, photographs didn’t kill painting, and TV didn’t kill the cinema, Welford hopes that our innate desire for creativity will not be killed off by AI. “It’s up to us to see that the way forward works with who we are as human beings,” he said.


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