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Generative Artificial Intelligence in education: What are the opportunities and challenges?

3 July 2023 (Last update:6 September 2023)


Artificial Intelligence tools open new horizons for education, but we urgently need to take action to ensure we integrate them into learning systems on our terms. That is the core message of UNESCO’s new paper on generative AI and the future of education. In her think piece, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, Stefania Giannini expresses her concerns that the checks and balances applied to teaching materials are not being used to the implementation of generative AI. While highlighting that AI tools create new prospects for learning, she underscores that regulations can only be built once the proper research has been conducted.


Readiness of schools to regulate the use of AI tools in education
In May, a UNESCO global survey of over 450 schools and universities found that fewer than 10% have developed institutional policies and/or formal guidance concerning the use of generative AI applications. The paper observes that in most countries, the time, steps and authorizations needed to validate a new textbook far surpass those required to move generative AI utilities into schools and classrooms. Textbooks are usually evaluated for accuracy of content, age-appropriateness, relevance of teaching and accuracy of content, cultural and social suitability which encompasses checks to protect against bias, before being used in the classroom.


Education systems must set own rules
The education sector cannot rely on the corporate creators of AI to regulate its own work. To vet and validate new and complex AI applications for formal use in school, UNESCO recommends that ministries of education build their capacities in coordination with other regulatory branches of government, in particular those regulating technologies.



Potential to undermine the status of teachers and the necessity of schools
The paper underscores that education should remain a deeply human act rooted in social interaction. It recalls that during the COVID-19 pandemic, when digital technology became the primary medium for education, students suffered both academically and socially. The paper warns us that generative AI in particular has the potential to both undermine the authority and status of teachers, and to strengthen calls for further automation of education: Teacher-less schools, and school-less education. It emphasizes that well-run schools, coupled with sufficient teacher numbers, training and salaries must be prioritized.


Education spending must focus on fundamental learning objectives
The paper argues that investment in schools and teachers, is the only way to solve the problem that today, at the dawn of the AI Era, 244 million children and youth are out of school and more than 770 million people are non-literate. Evidence shows that good schools and teachers can resolve this persistent educational challenge – yet the world continues to underfund them.


UNESCO’s response to generative AI in education
UNESCO is steering the global dialogue with policy-makers, EdTech partners, academia and civil society. The first global meeting of Ministers of Education took place in May 2023 and the Organization is developing policy guidelines on the use of generative AI in education and research, as well as frameworks of AI competencies for students and teachers for school education. These will be launched during the Digital Learning Week, which will take place at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 4-7 September 2023. The UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report 2023 to be published on 26 July 2023 will focus on the use of technology in education.


UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence
UNESCO produced the first-ever global standard on AI ethics – the ‘Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence’ in November 2021. This framework was adopted by all 193 Member States. The Recommendation stresses that governments must ensure that AI always adheres to the principles of safety, inclusion, diversity, transparency and quality.