AI in education: What does it mean for schools?

Creatives and marketers can no longer avoid ChatGPT in their day-to-day work. But what does the situation look like in German schools? What are the opportunities and challenges of using AI in education, both for teachers and students?

AI in education: a robot is walking through a classroom.
Image: © SmartArt / AdobeStock

Why is the education sector so afraid of AI?

Artificial intelligence has already taken hold in many areas of our day-to-day lives. For example, marketers are enthusiastically using ChatGPT for a wide range of purposes. However, AI is still a hot topic of discussion and point of contention in other industries, especially the education sector. Questions being asked are: Will it mean that our children will no longer think for themselves? Will students soon be doing their homework or taking their exams with the help of the AI chatbot? How will we be able to assess their performance if we can’t even verify that the work they’ve submitted is their own? All these factors are creating unease in society and among parents and teachers. One thing is clear though: the challenge isn’t the technology itself; it’s a lack of suitable, standardized strategies for using the new tools.

AI in education: huge potential for a wide variety of tasks

The didacta educational trade fair recently took place in Cologne from February 20 to 24. Opening the event, the Didacta Association spoke about the topics currently shaping the education sector, emphasizing the enormous opportunities that digitalization and the use of AI offer at schools and universities.

By 2035, there will be a shortage of 68,000 teaching staff in schools across Germany according to information published in early spring 2024 by the Deutsches Schulportal – which was initiated by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and is the biggest German-language online platform for school development as well as curriculum and lesson development.

This increasing shortage of teaching staff is a major challenge that needs to be tackled urgently. However, Germany is also still facing other problems, including the slow progress of digitalization in the education sector, a corresponding deficit in digital skills compared to other countries, and the correlation between students’ social background and their educational success. Intelligent ideas are what’s required here.

School of the future: Is digital education gaining momentum?

Nowadays, elementary school teachers are having to manage classes of 25 students on average, not all of whom have a good enough command of German to keep up with the lesson content. Add to that children with special educational needs – and a shortage of educational professionals to help teachers by assisting individual students in lessons.

So, how could an AI tool like ChatGPT positively shape the future of education in Germany? Quite simply, it could take some pressure off.

First and foremost, teachers could use the tool to create lesson plans, teaching materials, and knowledge tests – not only saving time, but also making the materials more tailored to learners’ individual strengths and weaknesses and overcoming the challenge of an increasingly diverse group of students.

The students themselves would also benefit from more personalized learning opportunities. Interactive learning apps have already caught on at numerous schools and allow students to independently practice, study, and take a deeper dive into educational content. Whether during periods of independent learning in the classroom or at home, the apps teach children as early as the first grade to use media effectively, opening up a varied, student-centered world of learning. ChatGPT could also be integrated into lessons to make learning fun by giving students personalized tasks to solve.

Digital education with AI – but how?

The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs in Germany recommends using AI in education in a planned way. For example, students from the age of around 13 could be given access to text generators such as ChatGPT in lessons. Younger learners should be taught the basic skills, i.e. reading, writing, and digital skills, to empower them to use a wide range of tools in a responsible and well-judged manner further down the line. After all, building and expanding the younger generation’s digital expertise isn’t just desirable, it’s indispensable because it plays a decisive role in the job market of the 21st century.

AI in education as a chance to build a successful future

Experts from the education sector agree on one thing: for ChatGPT and AI to be implemented successfully in education, students need to be taught how to use them properly. Tasks assigned to learners should be adapted to these new developments. For example, ChatGPT could be allowed for some tasks, but not for others. Such an approach would probably automatically dispel any doubts because it would then be clear that:

ChatGPT and other AI-powered technologies can never replace the brainwork of learners or do it for them.

And that’s not what these tools are about anyway. Rather than being closed off to new technologies, the focus should be on using them in a meaningful way. For that to happen, educational facilities need to provide the relevant training for teachers, embrace change, and take bold steps toward digital progress.