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Nesta survey shows most parents support AI in schools

25/02/19

Mark Say Managing Editor

Parents of schoolchildren are generally happy for schools to use AI tools, but many have reservations about how the data could be used, according to a new survey.

Drawing of robot on ceiling

It was carried out for a new report on the subject by innovation charity Nesta, which takes a positive view of the potential of AI in education.

The survey, conducted by YouGov in January and taking in more than 4,500 adults – of whom 1,225 were parents of children aged up to 18 – found that 75% would be happy for AI to be used in timetabling for their child’s school and 65% to help complete teachers’ administrative tasks.

In addition, a small majority of 55% like the idea of AI helping to adjust the pace of a child’s progress through lesson plans based on their speed of learning, and 61% agreed AI will be important in the running of schools by 2035.

But around three-quarters expressed concern over data issues: 77% of those with children were concerned about the accountability of AI decisions, 77% about the lack of transparency and 73% about breaches of data privacy and security.

The report, Educ-AI-tion Rebooted? identifies three categories of the technology it labels AIEd.

Responding to needs

Learner facing software can help students to receive and understand information in response to individual needs. It can diagnose their strengths and weaknesses, curate and stagger their learning materials and provide automated feedback.

Teacher facing AIEd can reduce their workload through automation, provide them with insights about their students and support new approaches in the classroom.

System facing technology can support school managers and public authorities in making decisions. This is the least widespread category of AIEd with the fewest number of existing tools, and often requires the sharing of data between schools and colleges.

The report says that so far investment has been focused largely on learner facing tools, with 52 of the 69 companies identified working in that category. 14 teacher facing and just three system facing.

It presents a case for investment, saying there is a need for more public funding of teacher facing tools to reduce the workload of school staff, and that it can help to change the structure of education to overcome some of the existing shortcomings.

Recommendations

Among its recommendations are that the Government provides funding for research and development through Innovate UK, prioritising the teacher facing and system facing tools, and provides downstream support to encourage their adoption.

This should be accompanied by getting schools and colleges to provide a testbed for the technology and encouraging them to collaborate closely with the companies in the sector.

In addition, the Government should declare an ambition to create a system of  responsible education data sharing by 2030, examination authorities should launch an AIEd Assessment Challenge Prize, and there should be an effort to set up pilots that combine human expertise and the insights from AIEd assessment tools.

One of the report’s authors, Laurie Smith, senior research explorations at Nesta, 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.

“There’s no need to be scared of AI or it taking over teacher jobs; in fact Nesta research has previously found that the number of teachers will rise not fall by 2030. Instead we should be thinking about how AI can relieve pressure on teachers freeing them up to give each student the time they deserve.”

Image by Adrián Pérez, CC BY 2.0 flickr

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