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Japan Educators Fear Generative AI Will Harm Students’ Cognitive Abilities

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The guidelines released Tuesday by the education ministry about the use of artificial intelligence in schools highlighted many risks while also illustrating ways to use it.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry stated in the guidelines that AI tools would initially be used on a limited basis, but some schools that have already begun trials have reported cases of inappropriate use. Experts warn that casual use of the technology could hinder children’s cognitive abilities.

Nagasaki Prefectural Nagasaki Kita High School has been experimenting since June with the use of ChatGPT in its English classes for second-year students, using it to correct their writing.

“It normally takes an hour, but with ChatGPT it only took 18 seconds,” a student said Monday. Another student said, “I get an answer right away with ChatGPT, but nothing stays in my head.”

According to their teacher, “I felt the potential for improving their English language skills, but also saw the negative side, where they rely on AI without thinking about the answers by themselves.”

There have already been cases of students using ChatGPT to complete their assignments.

In May, a teacher at a private high school in the Kyushu region assigned English composition homework and received work from a first-year student that was much better than his usual ability. Suspicious, the teacher asked the student to write the same composition on the spot and found that he had copied an entire work generated by ChatGPT.

“I may not be able to spot them all, and I’ve got no choice but to tell the students over and over that this isn’t allowed,” the teacher said.

Details left to schools

The guidelines state that generative AI should be used in discussions as a way “to find new viewpoints after a certain amount of discussion has taken place, and thereby deepen the debate.”

However, a public junior high school principal in Miyagi Prefecture said: “It’s not clear at what stage the discussion should be deepened. Misjudging the timing can stop children from thinking.”

The guidelines also request that schools teach kids about copyright infringement, but a vice principal of a public junior high school in Toyama Prefecture said, “It is practically impossible to check each student’s answers.”

Jiyu Gakuen Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo brought in an outside lecturer on Saturday to warn students that AI-generated answers may contain errors.

“Generative AI just combines words from the internet and composes sentences that ‘sound right.’ So, you must confirm the information,” the lecturer said.

The guidelines also include a checklist for using AI, but according to a ministry official, this is merely an outline of minimum requirements, leaving the specific measures to be taken in the hands of each school.

On June 13, the Tokyo Metropolitan board of education warned public school students not to submit book reports or other work generated by AI as part of their summer homework. The Saitama City board of education will soon come up with measures based on the guidelines.

Leading prep school Kawaijuku surveyed 139 high school and university teachers in May and found nearly 60% said they were cautious about allowing students to use AI freely.

Among high school teachers, 49% said some restrictions should be set, while 7% said AI should be prohibited. Thirty-five percent said AI should be used freely.

Many respondents said students should not casually rely on AI at a stage when their creativity is being nurtured, or that students would use it even if restrictions were set.

The Tokyo-based Japan School Library Association stated in the prerequisites to apply for its book report competition that entries will not be accepted if they are plagiarized or contain improper quotations.

Keiichi Shitara, the chairman of the association, had generative AI produce book reports three times and said that all were flat and uninteresting.

“The reports composed by AI did not move people emotionally,” Shitara said. “The aim of the contest is to help students acquire the ability to think and express themselves, as well as learn vocabulary.”

Meijo University Prof. Hideto Takeuchi, who studies mathematics education, said: “The brain is trained through trial and error. Our cognitive powers will be taken away if we rely on AI to find answers in the shortest possible time.”