UAE schools are set to embrace artificial intelligence and machine-learning technology by aiming to introduce AI-generated tutors to classrooms, the Minister of Education said on Thursday.
While emphasising that teachers would remain the mainstay of learning, Ahmad Al Falasi said the ministry was planning to transform the education sector with the use of AI chatbot tutors, using tech similar to that offered by ChatGPT or Google Bard.
“At the Ministry of Education, we are committed to adopting trailblazing technologies and are collaborating with our partners to develop GPT-powered AI tutors and evolve education technology to elevate the education system in the UAE,” said Mr Al Falasi at the Alef Education Summit at the Museum of the Future in Dubai.
“As developments in science and education technology accelerate around the world, the traditional methods of teaching have been transformed, with innovative tools revolutionising the classroom through interactive and distant learning.”
The day-long meeting organised by Alef, a UAE-based education technology provider, brought together teaching professionals and digital experts to discuss reshaping the sector.
How to redesign teaching
Mr Al Falasi told the recent World Government Summit in Dubai that the ministry would work with partners like Microsoft, OpenAI and other tech companies "to ensure that AI technologies are used to enhance the quality of learning and education".
Speaking on Thursday, he emphasised the use of new technology would not overshadow the role of the teacher.
He said “generative AI and large language models” were transformative and prompted academics to redesign teaching methods.
Generative AI refers to how programmes such as ChatGPT create content in audio, images and video in response to questions.
Large language models are powerful AI programmes that can generate paragraphs of text and mimic human conversation.
ChatGPT has generated interest globally, with users posting how they have completed college-level essays, computer coding and even poems with the help of the tool.
Educators in some parts of the world such as New York have banned using these tools in schools.
Some UAE experts have said banning the technology is not the answer and that pupils can be taught to use new digital solutions responsibly.
Education authorities in the UAE are drafting a policy to outline recommendations on how such technology can be used.
“It’s causing teachers, academics and educators globally to reassess not only how they teach but also how they assess,” Mr Al Falasi said.
“In the UAE we agreed that we would accept this technology.
“We are putting together a policy that gives guidelines to faculty and teachers on how best to use such large language models to their benefit to help students interact with it but at the same time ensure they have the best learning.”
The UAE's well-established tech infrastructure helped schools move to online education during the Covid-19 pandemic which meant education was not compromised.
“We have all been through Covid and realised how important technology is when it comes to education,” Mr Al Falasi said.
“But rather than think of technology as a tool to overcome a crisis, we should think of technology as a tool to help us transform education.”
Online systems are currently used to help some children with the curriculum and assist high achievers with advanced accelerator programmes.
These also serve as refresher courses helping pupils revise before exams or further research subjects.
School closures in the US
Geoffrey Canada, president of the non-profit Harlem Children’s Zone, spoke of the drastic effect of school closures in poor neighbourhoods in the US due to a lack of resources that have adversely affected children's education.
“We have never faced a situation as dire as what we have seen in the last few years. We are faced with a crisis that Covid has created,” he said.
“Teachers are leaving the field in record numbers, the pay is too low, the stress too high.
“There are places in the US where there are not enough teachers. Schools are running three to four days a week because they can’t find teachers. This is a disaster.”
He said online platforms developed by Alef Education encouraged pupils in New York to learn.
“We have used Alef and want to infuse it during the school day and after school,” Mr Canada told The National.
“We used to have tutors who would come in and work after school but it’s becoming harder and harder to get talented educators.
“With what I have seen with the Alef product and particularly how it integrates gamification and artificial intelligence, it’s now using the ChatGPT function — I think that’s the wave of the future and that’s why we are excited.”
Alef Education has grown from being introduced in one public school in Abu Dhabi in 2017 to being used in 350 public and private schools in the country.
Its digital platform keeps pupils from kindergarten to Grade 12 engaged by watching videos, reading content and answering questions in a curriculum that covers mathematics, science, English, Arabic and social studies.
The platform is used by about 890,000 pupils in countries including Canada, Indonesia and Egypt.
“Our focus is trying to make tools to meet kids where they are, whether here in the UAE in public or private schools or the US,” said Geoffrey Alphonso, chief executive of Alef Education.
He said the pace of digital transformation in the education sector had accelerated in the past two years.
“We owe it to future generations to build a robust system that not only allows them easy access to personalised education but also equips them with skills required to excel," he said.