The growth of artificial intelligence risks creating an educational "apartheid", with poor pupils deprived of human teachers while their better-off peers enjoy a more rounded schooling, an academic has warned.
Rose Luckin, an expert in AI and education at UCL's Institute of Education, said she feared schools in disadvantaged areas could in future be forced to rely on cheap models of technology, rather than professionals.
Explaining how this could happen, she suggested that technology companies could sponsor classrooms and rely on relatively cheap AI to teach pupils, without any teacher input. She said: "[It would involve] bouncers and minders for poor kids, and a lovely enriched blended experience for the better-off."
Prof Luckin, who was speaking at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Spring Conference in London today, said: "This is no way to go.
"What we can do is use AI systems smartly...to help humans learn the basics and to learn and construct knowledge appropriately, and to understand how they’re learning and progressing."
Later, she was asked to expand on her concerns by Girls Schools' Association chief executive Vivienne Durham. Ms Durham said: "I think your point about almost an educational apartheid where AI is the cheap model of education, and the human factor is the expensive one, is interesting."
She asked whether the government was looking at the "economic realities" of AI in teaching.
'Teachers need a voice about AI'
Prof Luckin replied: "I really worry about that apartheid potential, and part of it is that technology companies are very powerful and do have a lot of control."
She added: "A lot of people in decision-making positions don’t understand AI. We are vulnerable to being suckered into something that looks nice but actually isn’t."
She called for a special review into the implications of AI in the classroom, and said teachers needed to have a stronger voice to avoid having potentially unsuitable technology imposed on them.
"I think teachers need skin in the game," she said. "They don’t have that now. Teachers don’t really have much of a voice in the AI that may end up in the classroom, and we need to change that."
"I do worry that, otherwise, it’ll be a model that will be pushed on to many teachers rather than something they could be part of."
Teachers needed to be more "empowered" in this area, by working with AI developers, she said. "Because then we end up with AI and more educated educators, making better use of that AI," she added.
Prof Luckin also suggested that AI could make the knowledge-based curriculum – favoured by schools minister Nick Gibb – redundant.
She said: "We need to alter our approach to knowledge. A lot of the system in the UK is a knowledge-based curriculum. And much of that is based on precisely the same technology as the early AI systems.
"Because it’s so carefully specified, it’s completely automatable. This means that for a lot of children…they are going to be pitted against a system that can learn the knowledge-based curriculum and [get top grades]."
Literacy and numeracy will continue to be important, but schools need to focus more on inter-disciplinary learning and problem-solving, she said. This would help pupils to think about how knowledge is constructed, and to challenge facts.
In contrast, the knowledge-based curriculum is making pupils "naive" and more susceptible to "fake news", she said.
Everyone needs to understand the basics of AI, but this does not have to involve learning how to code, according to Prof Luckin. "Coding is not the way forward," she said. "We only need a very small proportion of the population to write AI code."