What is Artificial Intelligence and how does it interact within the education sector?

What is Artificial Intelligence and how does it interact within the education sector?

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) market has been evolving over time, promising to solve issues that humans face including those in the education sector. However, despite its growth, it still needs to be clarified to the world in general what exactly AI technologies are. It is also uncertain how these technologies could impact learners’ development. So, how is AI defined and how does it interact within the education sector?

According to a study published by Zion Market Research, the AI market accounted for around USD59.67 billion globally in 2021. This is expected to grow by 39.4% at a compound annual growth rate by 2028, reaching USD422.37 billion in total. With 43% of the total revenue, North America is currently leading the global AI market. However, it is predicted that by 2028, Asia Pacific will record the fastest AI market growth. Despite its significant development, the definition of AI needs to be more transparent for the world at large. So, what is AI and how can it be defined?

Based on a definition approved by the OECD member states, UNICEF defines AI thus:

“AI refers to machine-based systems that can, given a set of human-defined objectives, make predictions, recommendations, or decisions that influence real or virtual environments. AI systems interact with us and act on our environment, either directly or indirectly. Often, they appear to operate autonomously, and can adapt their behaviour by learning about the context.”

This definition puts the critical role of humans at the core of its explanation, making clear that although in some cases AI operates autonomously, AI systems tend to operate based on objectives defined by humans. Therefore, AI has the potential to address the challenges that humans face including those linked to the education sector. But what is the interaction between the education sector and AI?

The AI education market surpassed USD2 billion in 2021 with an expectation that this will grow by over 45% at a compound annual growth rate by 2030. According to a recent report published by the Council of Europe, the interaction between education and AI can be grouped under four headings:

Learning with AI – AI can be used for teaching and learning directly. For instance, AI tools can be used to assist learners through dialogue-based tutoring systems, intelligent tutoring systems, automatic writing evaluation systems, chatbots, etc. AI tools can also target issues learners with disabilities face. AI tools can be focused on administrative systems with the aim of improving recruitment, timetabling, and learning management processes. Finally, various AI tools can support teachers directly although there are still only a few examples of this, for instance, the smart curation of learning materials.

Using AI to learn about learning – In this case, data on different aspects of education is used to analyse how learners learn, how they progress, and which learning techniques are the best. This helps to identify the best practices, and methods of teaching and learning over time.

Learning about AI – This means introducing skills about AI technologies to learners of all ages, beginning from primary education.

Preparing for AI – This involves preparing citizens for the impact of AI on their lives, including teaching them how AI may impact their jobs.

However, despite AI technologies promising to target the challenges that the education sector faces, they also risk introducing new issues. For instance, it is still unclear how AI technologies will impact upon a child’s social, cognitive, or emotional development or how these technologies may change the role of parents as a result of the assumptions made by educational settings. Overall, the Council of Europe calls for further analysis of the possible impacts of AI technologies on education, emphasizing the need for critical debate between learners, teachers, AI scientists, commercial businesses specializing in AI technologies, policymakers, and all other stakeholders.

Recently, the European Commission also emphasized the importance of security and protection when adopting AI technologies by publishing Ethical Guidelines on the Use of Artificial Intelligence. Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth, commenting on the publication, said:

“Artificial Intelligence has a great potential to transform education and training for students, teachers and school staff. It can help students with learning difficulties and support teachers through individualised learning. But the use of AI and data comes with privacy, security, and safety risks, especially when it involves our young people.”

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