Sir Anthony Seldon is vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham
AI has the potential to bring untold benefits to schools across the world. The emerging technologies will at best solve the five problems that the traditional model of education, still prevalent today, could never defeat.
Firstly, despite best efforts made over many years, it never defeated social immobility. Children from better-off homes around the world tend to go to the best schools, and from there they proceed to the best universities and top jobs.
The best schools attract the best teachers, while less-advantaged children often have unqualified teachers, or no teachers at all. The promise of AI is of an Eton education for all, by which I mean the best-quality teachers (whatever readers might think of Eton, few would deny the quality of its teaching).
Secondly, AI makes possible individual learning plans for each student each day, with technology that teaches according to each student’s learning styles, motivations and difficulties.
AI offers the opportunity at last for each student to move at their level of understanding in each and every subject, rather than according to their age, ie, they move by stage, not age.
In the factory model, every student is taught and examined alongside those of the same age. This means that, even with setting, some students are held back while others are demotivated by the level of difficulty.
New technology means, for example, that a Year 9 child might be taught at Year 12 level in maths, but Year 5 level in English, which would optimise learning.
Thirdly, growing teacher workload and stress has meant that many have left the profession early while others are being deterred from joining. It means that many are unable to give their best energy to teaching in the classroom because of all the time spent preparing, marking and reporting on students.
Earlier technology gave the promise that it would reduce bureaucracy, but it did not. AI is different. It will curate learning materials for each student, assess and mark their work, and write detailed formative reports.
The fourth problem concerns the pressure on classroom time that has led to a very narrow curriculum in many schools. Students’ creative, social, personal, physical and moral intelligences are often undervalued. AI will help here, in part because it will free up class time, as personalised learning will become much more efficient.
Pioneering schools in the US have students in front of their AI teaching machines for only some 30 per cent of each day. The rest of the time is used for group activity, project work, problem solving, sport and creativity.
Finally, the current factory model of education tends to homogenise rather than individuate students; they are taught to produce the right answer and in the right way. AI encourages active rather than passive rote learning. It allows students to come up with their own responses, then comments on them in a way that engages their intellect and imaginations.
AI also has serious downsides. We need to tackle these if the benefits are to be realised.
Sir Anthony Seldon’s book, The Fourth Education Revolution, is published by The University of Buckingham Press