Generative AI has disrupted education. Here’s how it can be used for good – UNESCO

  • Schools, colleges and universities are having to rapidly adjust to generative AI.
  • Now UNESCO has produced the first-ever global guidance for the use of generative AI in education.
  • The World Economic Forum also addresses “educational shifts” in its Presidio Recommendations on Responsible Generative AI.

Barely recovered from the pandemic, schools and universities are beginning the 2023-24 academic year with a fresh challenge to contend with – generative AI.

While some educational institutions initially banned the use of ChatGPT when it launched in November last year – mainly due to concerns around how it could enable cheating – now it is a case of establishing ground rules and guidelines around generative AI use.

The first ever global Guidance for Generative AI in Education and Research, a UNESCO initiative designed to “address the disruptions” caused by the technology, is now available to help this process. As countries continue to work out their governance approach, the guidance “will help policy-makers and teachers best navigate the potential of AI for the primary interest of learners”, says Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General.

The World Economic Forum and AI Commons have similar goals with their 30 action-oriented recommendations outlined in the Presidio Recommendations on Responsible Generative AI. These guidelines – the result of 100 thought leaders and practitioners coming together at a global summit in April 2023 – are centred around three key themes: responsible development of the technology, international collaboration, and social progress, which incorporates “educational shifts”.

Governance guardrails are essential to ensuring safe and inclusive use of generative AI in education.

Governance guardrails are essential to ensuring safe and inclusive use of generative AI in education. Image: Reuters/Jonathan Drake

What are UNESCO’s guidelines for AI in education?

Fewer than 10% of schools and universities currently have formal guidance on AI, says UNESCO. Its new guidance suggests eight specific measures educational institutions could adopt to ensure “quality education, social equity and inclusion”.

1. Promote inclusion, equity, linguistic and cultural diversity

Bias was identified early on as an issue with generative AI models, and the task of governments and institutions now is to level the AI playing field. To this end, UNESCO says steps must be taken to ensure everyone has internet connectivity and access to AI applications; criteria must be established to eliminate gender or cultural bias; and GenAI systems must evolve to include data in multiple languages, especially minority ones.

2. Protect human agency

There is a danger we may become too dependent on generative AI and lose sight of our human agency, compromising “the development of intellectual skills”, UNESCO warns. One approach the report advises to counteract this possibility is selective banning of the technology in situations “where it would deprive learners of opportunities to develop cognitive abilities and social skills through observations o

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