Revealed: Parents’ fears about artificial intelligence in schools

Parents are happy with AI being used for school timetables but not marking pupils' homework, says Nesta report

A YouGov survey commissioned by Nesta highlighted parents' concerns about the use of AI in schools.

An overwhelming majority of parents are concerned about bias, accountability and a lack of transparency in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in schools, new research shows.

A YouGov survey commissioned by innovation foundation Nesta, which asked about the use of artificial intelligence tools for education (AIEd), showed that 61 per cent of parents thought AI will be fairly or very important in schools by the year 2035.

However, today's report – Educ-AI-tion Rebooted – reveals concerns in a number of areas:

  • Lack of transparency: 77 per cent of parents were fairly or very concerned about transparency; 13 per cent were not very concerned or not at all concerned;
  • Accountability: 77 per cent were concerned; 12 per cent were not concerned;
  • Breach of data privacy and security: 73 per cent were concerned; 18 per cent were not;
  • Social equity: 64 per cent were concerned; 21 per cent were not;
  • Bias and discrimination: 61 per cent were concerned; 25 per cent were not;
  • Determinism: 78 per cent were concerned; 11 per cent were not.
     

On the last point, the report says: “Young people are more malleable than adults so there is a danger that the predictions made by certain applications of AIEd could lock them into undesirable future educational, employment or life pathways.”


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The report, which calls for extra government investment in the sector, raises as an example “AIEd tools making recommendations for future education or career pathways which could reinforce and replay whatever social inequality is reflected in the data on which an algorithm was trained”.

Parents wary of AI marking homework

The survey also reveals a range of parental attitudes to different roles AI could play in their child’s school.

Parents were most happy about its use for timetabling (75 per cent of parents), completing a teacher’s administrative tasks (65 per cent), and adjusting the pace of a student’s progress through lesson plans based on how quickly they were learning (55 per cent).

However, more parents were unhappy than happy about AI marking homework (48 per cent versus 39 per cent), and assessing attributes such as social and emotional skills throughout pupils' development at school (44 per cent versus 37 per cent).

They were evenly split on AI being used to mark exams, with 43 per cent of parents happy and 43 per cent unhappy.

Co-author Laurie Smith said: “AIEd has the potential to tackle the mounting pressures on UK schools – from excessive teacher workload to social immobility – creating a smarter and fairer system, but there needs to be a combined effort between students, parents, teachers, government and regulators to take action now to ensure the industry fulfils its potential responsibly.”

The Department for Education said that the government sees “huge potential for the education sector to reap the benefits that AI-driven technology has to offer”.

“AI-based technology can help students to access new information that is tailored to their individual level of knowledge. It can also reduce workload and improve outcomes in the classroom, by helping teachers focus on their core purpose – teaching,” a spokeswoman added.

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