artificial intelligence
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Education in the age of AI

Tilting the balance of pros and cons of artificial intelligence towards the positive side goes beyond training in its technical aspect; it requires, above all, teaching how to use it in an ethical, responsible manner

ChatGPT de OpenAI
File photo of a screen with OpenAI's ChatGPT website on April 26, 2023.Rayner Peña R. (EFE)

The entire educational system is expectant, waiting for the changes that will be necessary to adapt to the impact that artificial intelligence will have on research, teaching and institutional management itself. Active participation of regulators is called for to limit the dangers that AI can represent, in case of misuse and abuse, especially for the most vulnerable sectors. Among them, minors stand out, but no one is immune from the negative consequences that may arise in certain circumstances. The Beijing Consensus, published by UNESCO in 2019, describes the guidelines that should be followed to prepare those who make the educational policies regarding AI; however, we do not yet have an analysis of how these recommendations have been implemented.

On the other hand, educational institutions are well aware of the cultural resistance to change. Fear of the unknown, fear of error, can paralyze or at least slow down the acceleration of technological and educational innovation. In the face of artificial intelligence, however, it is not worth focusing the debate on whether machines will wipe out the role of the teachers – something that seems unlikely – but rather on how they will transform it. The way teachers do their job must be completely redefined, and with it, the role that educators have to guide students in the proper use of a technology that is already inevitably present in all areas of society. Sensitizing and accompanying teaching and research staff in this digital transition, as well as the administration and services staff, is an essential condition for the success of AI in the educational system.

One example is the government of Spain, which last May approved the allocation of more than €1.3 billion ($1.4 billion) from the funds for recovery, transformation and resilience to the costs of this teacher preparation. However, channeling such an important investment and materializing it into results requires not only resources, but also time. A time that can be unnecessarily extended if people do not work collaboratively, with a constructive will and the coordinated participation of all the parties involved.

Despite these difficulties, the benefits can be much greater for optimizing research and making academic management more efficient. Some may harbor greater doubts about the advantages that AI can have in teaching practice, where the dizzying pace of change is unsustainable for rigid educational systems. Without going any further, according to the Global Education Monitoring 2023 report, technology is evolving at a faster rate than it is possible to evaluate, with educational technology products changing, on average, every 36 months.

However, tilting the balance of pros and cons of AI towards the positive side goes beyond simply training in its technical aspect, however necessary. It requires, above all, teaching how to use its full potential in an ethical, responsible manner. This commitment to use – not abuse – must be applied to the entire AI chain: from the programmer, who must make sure to minimize the biases that the technology can perpetuate and even intensify, to the companies that promote and apply it, where it is necessary to establish regulatory and moral limits that do not violate human rights for the sake of economic benefit.

We should also not overlook individual responsibility in our use of artificial intelligence, which begins with making an effort to learn how to handle this technology. The temptation to succumb to the convenience that AI represents in our lives in exchange for data may be legitimate, but this should be done with full awareness (exposing, or better yet, avoiding, any dark, malicious patterns) and protecting the most vulnerable.

Only if we – regulators, legislators, academic institutions, educators, students, professionals and citizens – put people at the center and educate ourselves in its responsible use, will it be possible to experience artificial intelligence in all its splendor.

Anna Bajo Sanjuán is global head of social impact for Santander Universities at Banco Santander.

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