AI is on the rise both as a tool and as a commodity in schools, however a Malmö University researcher says there is a need for governments to create guidelines on both ethics and the market.

AI tools are said to offer solutions to many problems in schools; individual students can be given AI-adapted tasks with exactly the right level of challenges while the teacher is busy with others. The systems can also reduce teachers' burdensome administration. In theory, teaching could be improved while saving schools both time and money.

There is a caring part of the school and education that may be lost in all forms of digitalisation.

Thom Axelsson

"I think schools need AI, however it can be overwhelming and made to seem like it's urgent when it isn’t. AI should not be exaggerated," says Thom Axelsson, associate professor in educational science.

It is evident that AI can help in special education where the technology is said to be able to help level the playing field for students who need extra help. At the same time, there is a risk of privacy-infringing surveillance when AI tools collect data. Should a tool, and by extension a company, have access to children's innermost thoughts?

“I think something interpersonal is lost when you only have contact with a machine. There is a caring part of the school and education that may be lost in all forms of digitalisation. Sometimes people talk more about the knowledge part of the school than the social part. The social part of the school may be forgotten even more because of AI.”

In addition to an ethical risk, there is a market risk with AI, says Axelsson. If a market-dominant AI company enters the world of schools, the entire school, or the entire municipality, could become dependent on the systems owned by tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. This can lead to reduced transparency and external actors making demands on how schools are organised. Teachers will have more data to use in their work to accurately adapt their teaching or set grades. Companies, if not regulated, can utilise the same data for resale to other companies.

“Regulations need to be in place at all levels, but especially at EU and state level to begin with. It has a lot to do with transparency, it has to be transparent where decisions are made. However, I suspect that it will be implemented first and regulated later.

“I think AI will be a big topic of discussion in the field of education, at all levels. It is important that the teacher retains their autonomy, which will facilitate the implementation of AI. It must still be within the framework of the profession," concludes Axelsson.

Text: Marc Malmqvist & Adrian Grist