Why AI will transform the education landscape

  • AI is already being used in education – to mark work and help free up teachers’ time
  • It could also have a crucial role in safeguarding, by detecting when a child is in need of help and intervening with advice and support
  • We discuss some of the practical applications for AI in education and the benefits and risks

Digital technologies have disrupted the education sector for the last few decades – from the arrival of desktop computers and the World Wide Web, to the emergence of interactive whiteboards and iPads.

Artificial intelligence (AI) looks set to have as great an impact on the sector as any of these innovations.

Tilden Watson, Head of Education, Zurich Municipal, says: “AI is going to be massive in education. It’s going to transform the education landscape over the next 25 years.”

Practical applications for AI in education

AI is already being used in parts of the sector to mark assessments and exam papers, and there has been much discussion about the potential of using 24/7 virtual learning assistants to answer student queries outside normal learning hours.

“AI could be a really positive force for teachers, by taking on some of their more mundane tasks and freeing up their time,” says Tilden.

Some emerging AI technologies can even assess how well a student understands what they’ve been taught.

Tilden explains: “AI can read emotions and gauge understanding. This could be really valuable for teachers, because it could help them to decide whether a student is ready to move forward, rather than just making every student follow the pace of the class.”

The role of AI in school safeguarding

Tilden says AI could also play an important role in improving safeguarding in schools.

“Children are often more willing to engage with computers and technology than they are with an adult,” he says. “From a safeguarding perspective, if a child is reluctant to discuss a problem with their teacher or parents, technology creates another pathway to offer them help.”

Zurich has partnered with safeguarding specialists, Ineqe, to develop the Safer Schools app, which provides a wealth of safeguarding resources for teachers and parents, as well as content tailored for students.

“We are having conversations with Ineqe about how AI can be used within the app,” says Tilden. He gives the example of a child using the app to look for information about sexting.

“AI could intuitively work out that the child might have concerns about being asked to send or receive sexually explicit images, and it could intervene by providing advice or directing them to help,” he says.

Tilden acknowledges that ensuring that AI provides valuable support for young people without intruding on their privacy will necessitate careful handling. However, he adds: “The potential of AI is limitless, both in terms of students’ learning experiences and in helping with the intractable problems they could face.”

Should the education sector be wary of AI?

Before embracing AI, organisations should have a clear understanding of what their technology is capable of and what it is being used for – and there must be human oversight.

Tilden says: “We have had examples in the public sector – the breast cancer screening scandal, for example – where computer algorithms were being asked to perform an important function, but nobody understood what those algorithms were doing.

“If you are using technology to perform functions on your behalf, you should have the ability to monitor what it’s doing, and you should understand it.

“For example, if you are using algorithms to design and produce specific, tailored learning plans, or to grade and mark work, then humans should have the ability to intervene or to quality assure what the algorithm is doing. AI should not be able to do whatever it wants – there should always be human oversight.”

Our new whitepaper – AI in the public sector: the future is here – contains useful, practical guidance for organisations to consider before embarking on any new project involving AI. It also explains some of the key implications for insurance coverage.