Editorial, January 2024
Was 2023 the year everything changed because of AI? Perhaps some of our old priorities just became more essential.
2023 was the year that ‘AI’ forced its way into our consciousness. After Chat GPT burst in on the scene at the end of 2022 there was a growing awareness of something happening that was powerful and important.
The use of the word ‘intelligence’ applied to the world of machines was vaguely disquieting and the ability of new programmes to synthesise not only essays and answers, but also images, voices, poetry and works of art suggested that a line was being crossed into an area that hitherto we had thought was exclusively human: our creativity.
And the AI revolution – whatever it is – seems to be running away from us. Not a day passes without a reference to a new application, whether in the field of medical science, research or design being presented in the media.
What does this mean for us as educators? How can we keep up? In fact, where do we start?
Firstly, we surely have a duty to understand how these changes are likely to affect young people, who will not thank us for ignoring it. Waiting for changes in national curricula or exam courses won’t do either: individual schools need to adjust their own curriculum to take into account their growing understanding of AI. This has already started to happen.
Changing the content of what we teach will be disruptive and difficult. However, there are two other key implications for our work in areas that we know and understand well, but perhaps now need even more emphasis.
Firstly, the development of analytical and critical thinking.
In the age of the deep fakes and outrageous political claims, the ability to ask good questions has never been more important and our teaching must surely continue to focus on these key skills, with children of all ages.
Secondly, if AI is going to take on more work hitherto done by people, there are implications for the future of leisure. Generations Z and Alpha need time to find out what they enjoy doing and then be given the opportunity to deepen their knowledge and skills accordingly.
This means a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum is critical and the opportunity to try out a wide range of activities in an imaginative co-curricular programme are even more important than ever. Becoming active participants in science, history, sport, music, design, cinema, art and theatre as players, makers, thinkers, actors, spectators and appreciative members of an audience will be central to everyone’s wellbeing.
Ultimately, learning to do something well, developing the love of doing it and appreciating others when they do things well, is what makes us human. Good schools have always done this.
And, as far as I know, machines do not have the capacity to enjoy what they do or to appreciate the achievements of others. At least, not yet . . .
Wishing all our readers and writers a very happy New Year!
FURTHER READING: https://www.unesco.org/en/digital-education/artificial-intelligence