Ensure Students do not Lose the Ability to Think for Themselves

When children do not understand something, they might immediately turn to artificial intelligence tools and accept the answer without questioning it. Schools need to deal carefully with this issue to ensure that casual use of AI does not spread among children.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has released guidelines for elementary, junior high and high schools on how to handle ChatGPT and other generative AI models in schools.

In the guidelines, the ministry highlighted risks associated with AI — including personal data leaks, copyright infringement and the proliferation of false information — and concerns about the technology’s impact on students’ thinking abilities and motivation to learn. With these in mind, the ministry stated that “at first it would be appropriate to limit the use of AI” in schools.

In particular, the ministry urged schools to be cautious about allowing elementary school students, who do not have sufficient ability for information literacy, to use AI. It stated that the technology should be introduced on a trial basis in some schools that are able to cope with the risks.

Generative AI may lead to the creation of a new set of values depending on how it is used, but there are too many problems involved in allowing children to use the technology at its current stage. The guidelines are meant to call attention to the premature use of AI in educational settings. It can be said that the content of the guidelines is appropriate as it takes into consideration of the developmental stages of children.

While the guidelines presented examples of using AI as “an English conversation partner,” they also included examples of inappropriate use, such as “students submitting reports created with generative AI as their own.” With the summer vacation approaching, those examples will be a useful reference for schools when assigning homework.

The challenge is to improve the “abilities of teachers” regarding AI use.

Many teachers are not comfortable teaching information technology, which is a highly specialized field. They need to improve their knowledge of the benefits and challenges of using AI, and cases of copyright infringement. The hope is that boards of education will make an effort to improve the content of their teacher training sessions.

In schools, some students have already started submitting English composition assignments that were copied and pasted from ChatGPT.

In the case of high school students, in general, study achievements and essay writing prizes, among other things, are used to determine whether applicants pass or fail comprehensive university entrance exams, formerly known as AO (admissions office) entrance exams, and school recommendation-based selections. Detecting fraudulent acts is a challenging issue.

Regarding AI use for evaluations and entrance examinations, it is necessary not only to check the submitted materials, but also to carefully measure the level of understanding of applicants through presentations and interviews.

One of the aims of education is building character. Thinking for yourself, acting independently and taking responsibility for consequences: That is what it means to have autonomy. Who will bear responsibility if people stop thinking for themselves, act according to AI and fail as a result?

AI is just a tool, not a panacea. It is hoped that schools will make children first learn the principle of “ultimately thinking for themselves and making a judgment.”

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 7, 2023)