What role can AI play in helping Australia’s schools?

What role can AI play in helping Australia’s schools?

When ChatGPT was released for public use in November 2022, the education sector worldwide sat up and took notice.

The potential of generative AI technology for academic misconduct (i.e., churning out 2,000-word essays in a matter of seconds) soared to new heights, presenting yet another complex challenge teachers really didn’t need.

Fast-forward to 2024 and, as always, educators are quickly adapting to these challenges, and importantly, finding ways for this technology to support – not subvert – students’ learning.

A recent example of this is the NSWEduChat – a “virtual tutor” built specifically for use in education and suitable for school-aged children, unlike many commercially available AI apps. It responds to requests by posing questions to make sure the user actually understands the concept they’re dealing with, and calculations that were used to reach a given answer.

Elsewhere, schools are allowing students to use ChatGPT in the classroom for the purpose of comparing their own work with that generated by the chatbot.

Teachers are seeing the benefits, too. A recent survey found a majority of educators believe using ChatGPT is an effective way of creating lesson plans.

However, AI may now be evolving faster than what schools can manage. While the leap from GPT-3.5 to GPT-4 was dizzying, the potential of GPT-5 could mark a seismic shift in this technology and its capabilities.

Matt Adney is the Chief Product Officer at Education Perfect and a software industry veteran with over two decades of expertise in crafting enterprise software solutions, founding businesses, and fostering dynamic teams worldwide.

He says the impact of AI on education is going to be transformative.

“Education is one of the most applicable and impactful use-cases for generative AI technology. If executed well, the positive impacts can far outweigh the negative,” Adney told The Educator.

“The Government is taking it seriously and have released the Australian Framework for Generative AI in Schools, as well as experimenting with their own pilot programmes.”

Adney said EP believes AI has the power to deliver an enriching, personalised, adaptive learning experience to all students, bringing Australia closer to greater equity in its education system and ultimately improving the quality of learning for everyone.

“We are currently exploring the best ways to implement AI within our platform, leveraging our 17 years of experience. We are very excited by what we’ve got so far, and you’ll be hearing more about it in due course.”

‘The genie is not going back in the bottle’

In recent times, there have been growing calls for stringent regulations to ensure children's learning is supported, and not hindered, by AI technology. However, Adney said students of all ages will continue to take advantage of this technology, whether it’s regulated or not.

“The genie is not going back in the bottle, so it’s a matter of being as thoughtful and responsible as possible in the way we introduce, supervise and contextualize it,” he said.

“In general, if a student is engaging more deeply with learning materials because of the use of AI, that would usually be a good thing - as long as they are not being misled or misinformed. Careful oversight and testing are essential, of course.”

Looking ahead, Adney said the polarisation of wealth in the Australian education system is one concern that the proliferation of transformative ed-tech will hopefully alleviate rather than exacerbate.

“I would love to see equitable access to new technology - and we are certainly striving for that in what we are developing. Given the shortage of teachers and the overburden of work the ones we do have are subjected to, I think there has to be a role for assistive AI technologies,” Adney said.

“They can free up teachers from the more mundane aspects of their work, and allow them to focus on the higher-level cognitive and pastoral concerns that will always be best-suited for humans.”