The AI debate in Estonian education: A balanced approach

As the new school year arrives, teachers and the education ministry alike are revisiting the question of artificial intelligence (AI). The overriding opinion seems to be that instead of banning it, AI should be adapted to, and ways to make it work to one’s advantage should be explored, reported Estonian TV lately.

AI tools such as ChatGPT are being used more and more in the course of school work, sometimes actually conferring on the student an added disadvantage compared with their usual work rather than an advantage.

ChatGPT in the classroom

Terje Hallik, the teacher at the Miina Härma High School in Tartu, said: “There have been cases where the student themselves confess [to using an AI tool]. It may seem comical that the work seems so poor the teacher asks the student about it, noting that the work is below their usual standard, and then the student answers that ChatGPT was responsible. That is just how the first such case went.”

The first cases of AI use in schoolwork appeared at the Miina Härma High School last November, and proved a concern to teachers.

While awareness of AI and its uses is now much higher than it was, there is still no software which teachers can use to identify which works have been completed with the help of the robot, having instead to rely on their own intuition.

Learning from history

Birgy Lorenz, senior researcher at Tallinn University of Technology’s (TalTech) IT College said: “As with the advent of the tablet computer – at first there was a lot of talk, then it became clear that it wouldn’t solve our problems – we still have to learn ourselves, so then we move on.”

“The ethical issues [of AI] will be resolved in the next three years as the whole world discusses them. Then we can decide what we in general will allow the AI to do and what we will not allow it to do,” Lorenz went on.

Birgy Lorenz also compares the situation to the Kratt, an old Estonian folkloric figure, which should not be feared, but rather how to use AI wisely should be learned.

Aivar Hiio, learning paths advisor at the Ministry of Education and Research, said: “I certainly wouldn’t want to reach a situation where tasks are being completed with the help of a chatbot, solved by the student with the help of a chatbot and also checked that way. This would really be the darkest scenario you could move into, so we need to be aware of it. It is necessary to talk about it openly with the students, to discover these possibilities together and keep a clear common understanding of why it is we study in school at all.”

Birgy Lorenz helped the Ministry of Education and Research in adapting new AI tech for schools in spring.

This article was first published by ERR News.


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