Reflections on AI...after Barclays' AI Frenzy EdTech in City Hall
In partnership with UCL and as an immediate follow up of the EDUCATE 2018 summit, BARCLAYS BANK organised a short but excellent event yesterday evening (26 November) in London's City Hall on AI (Artificial Intelligence). Excellent because of the quality of the speakers namely Prof. Rose Luckin (UCL) and Keiron Sparrowhawk of MyCognition, I have mentioned in my other article published today, as well as Lord Jim Knight who is also Chief Education Advisor of TES (Tes.com).
Prof. Luckin summed up for us the history of AI since the pioneering fifties. With great lucidity and modesty, despite being one of the most learned scholar in the field, she made us understand that there is still a long way to go with AI. Listening to her I could not prevent myself to wonder how AI will affect our daily lives in a practical way, while being worried at the virtual language teacher she showed us in a short video. This worry was thereafter plainly expressed by Jim when he stated that we may see a day where a 'rich pupil will have a human teacher and a poorer one, a virtual one'. Jim also pointed out how backward and misleading our higher educational system is with the 'get a degree, get a job, get a happy life' now obsolete sequence. De facto major companies like Google or IBM have recently waved the requisite of a degree to join their company. The educative model currently in use in the UK and most of the countries is equally completely obsolete and archaic. It was borne during the XVIIIth century, if not the XVIIth, and has very little changed since then. As Prof. Luckin rightly pointed out we do not need any more exams, we need continuous learning. I could not agree more. Time has come to scrap the confrontational teacher-versus-pupil system and, second, remove the unhealthy and stressful exam system.
As someone who has gone through about thirty-nine vital two-to-four hours exams during his high school and university years (let's forget about the mid-term or mock ones), I, unfortunately, know the subject well. As I told Jim during the post-event drink, I was moreover excluded by my school. By 'exclusion' I mean that my school, one of the most famous and expensive boarding schools of the planet, did not officially present me to the 'baccalauréat' exams but abandoned me to my fate with a written mention that every French school teacher knows well: 'Doit faire ses preuves' (must prove himself [worthy of the diploma]) and which from the outset handicaps any candidate. It resulted in one of the greatest humiliation met by any educational institution. I have never talked about it publicly but could if invited as lessons, even if thirty-four years later, can be drawn. It has to do with an outdated intolerant teaching system, endorsed by a school staff but one exception (the philosophy teacher), which does not allow individuality to be expressed, does not take into consideration the psychology and attached vocational orientation of some pupils and sanctions immediately any expression of independence or disagreement with the teaching system. An educational failure which sprint-like exams make a disaster, when they do not lead to teenage suicide (in France & Japan particularly). All of this needs the dramatic changes which Jim asks and which the legislator must indeed put in place as soon as possible - if not to save lives. So if AI can provide any solutions we must identify them and implement without delay with philosophy and balance, as otherwise and as the French say 'science sans conscience n'est que ruine de l'âme': 'science without consciousness is nothing but a ruin of the soul'. AI-assisted teaching, without it, would not be better.
Written by Christian de Vartavan
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