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Artificial intelligence: Experts recommend using AI in primary schools

From the perspective of educational experts, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) with programs such as ChatGPT in schools has great potential. However, there are many prerequisites and conditions for the responsible use of these instruments to promote learning, the Standing Scientific Commission (SWK) of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs announced in a paper.

The committee recommended a short-term transition phase for systematic testing of such AI tools “with an open culture of errors.”

The SWK also pointed out risks and hurdles. “AI can and should support the teaching and learning process, the final decision or evaluation and responsibility for the end product must lie with people.” Teachers would have to be qualified and further training opportunities would have to be expanded quickly.

AI chatbots like ChatGPT can formulate texts at the linguistic level of a human. The principle behind this is that they estimate, word by word, how a sentence should continue. The models are trained with enormous amounts of information. The release of ChatGPT at the end of last year sparked a worldwide hype around artificial intelligence . According to the developer company OpenAI, around 100 million users worldwide access ChatGPT every week.

For older students and colleges

According to the commission , text-creating AI tools such as ChatGPT should be completely avoided in primary school and largely avoided in the first years of secondary school. The focus here must be on children’s acquisition of reading and writing skills. From the eighth grade onwards, regular use as writing support can take place, while texts should continue to be created without these aids. The use of AI must be closely monitored.

According to SWK, the AI programs can provide support “if learners have high technical, writing, reading and digital skills”. They should therefore be used by older students as well as in universities. It’s about the “productive use” of this technology. The development of reading and writing skills in the first years of school should take place without so-called large language models (LLM) such as ChatGPT and Co.

According to the Commission, current estimates assume that at least 20 percent of students in Germany already use ChatGPT as a source of information, for text production and translation. The education experts also see many, often underestimated, opportunities for teachers: for example, for lesson planning, creating knowledge tests with different levels of difficulty or even developing teaching material, differentiated according to the students’ ability. However, AI cannot replace the didactic expertise of a teacher.

SWK also sees risks

Chatbots react to voice input and create texts that contain made-up facts and errors, but still sound plausible. The students must be able to evaluate content in terms of quality, correctness and trustworthiness and to take control of the process through their language input, as the committee writes. Critical, analytical thinking and technical knowledge are required. These skills could not be expected, especially for weaker learners.

Skilled use of AI instruments by students should be practiced and tested as a new learning goal. Teachers must be qualified accordingly. “The dynamic development of the tools places particular demands on teachers.” According to the recommendation, responsibility for using AI – for example for creating tasks or assessing performance – should lie with teachers.

There are currently uncertainties with regard to exam formats, and the exam culture needs to be further developed. In audits, the Commission advises distinguishing between parts without aids and those in which AI tools may be used. If such instruments are used, “not only the final text, but also the students’ reflected engagement with its creation and the result should be the subject of assessment.” It can be assumed that skilled “coactivity” with ChatGPT and Co. will represent an important future competence.

To-do list for education policy

The SWK paper also points to “technological, ethical and legal problems” that question its legal use in schools. The use of commercial tools is subject to market economic interests; they were not made for schools. Education policy has the task of integrating AI instruments into suitable learning platforms. “A particularly big challenge currently lies in designing tools for use in educational contexts and in special subjects,” writes the director of the Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media, Ulrike Cress.

According to the committee, all learners and teachers should be given free or low-cost access to these tools. The President of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs, Saarland’s Education Minister Christine Streichert-Clivot (SPD), said: “Technological progress must not lead to greater social inequality, but opportunities must be accessible to everyone.”

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