I recently attended a keynote address from David De Carvalho, CEO of Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), who used the ‘castle invasion’ scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to characterise the typical human response to impending change.
In this scene, two guards watch with mild interest as a single knight charges their castle – seemingly making little to no progress – only to suddenly find he is on top of them, wreaking carnage and havoc!
It seems we tend to allow technological advancements to affect us in similar ways; the world has witnessed some of the most audacious predictions about technology, from renowned pioneers who could not anticipate the scale of advancement that would follow.
The predictions of Thomas Watson, the President of IBM in 1943, stating that there may be no more than five computers in the world, or Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, believing that computers would never find a place in people’s homes in 1977, seem incredibly far-fetched from our present vantage point.
In 20 years’ time as our ELC students prepare to enter the workforce, it begs the question – what will the technological landscape look like for them?
Many of us refer to ‘Moore’s Law’ to describe the exponential growth of technology; in 1975 this was a simple observation of the doubling of transistors in an integrated circuit every two years, but it is now popularly used to refer to the disruption that this ever-accelerating development causes. As we gaze into the future, it is clear that we will continue to witness the emergence of ground-breaking innovations, fuelled by the seemingly limitless potential of human ingenuity.
As we move forward into the 21st century, it is becoming increasingly clear that artificial intelligence (AI) will play an ever-growing role in our lives. From helping doctors diagnose diseases to optimising supply chains in manufacturing, AI is transforming a wide range of industries.
At St John’s Grammar we recently conducted a staff Professional Development session looking at the established uses of AI technologies in many industries, but also recognising recent key developments which have placed AI within educational and knowledge-based industries for the first time.
The debate around the ethics of AI being used to assist the production of work is not just limited to school-age students as these tools are beginning to appear in most industries (you may have heard of the AI chatbot ChatGPT (https://openai.com/blog/chatgpt) recently passing US medical licensing exams). We also note that ChatGPT (https://openai.com/blog/chatgpt) has specifically been banned in some school jurisdictions in Australia (Victoria, NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania), although how this ban will be enforced probably raises more questions than answers.
In the short timeframe from December 2022 to March 2023, it has become clear that the AI landscape for schools and universities is far from simple, and that ‘blanket’ bans of a single AI tool (ChatGPT) are likely to be completely ineffective.
The wave of new AI tools is growing each week and it is clearly impossible to ‘weed them out’ using blunt approaches such as bans, filters or blocking.
An alternative approach is to recognise the risks, consider the opportunities and take our role as parents and educators seriously as we teach children how to approach new technologies. At St John’s Grammar, we recognise the importance of preparing our students for this AI-driven future, and we are continually exploring ways to help them develop the skills they will need to succeed.
One of the most significant impacts of AI will be on the job market. The ‘jobs for the future’ narrative proposes that many of the jobs that our students will be entering into do not yet exist, but it is probable that many will be focused on using and managing AI systems.
Mazen Kourouche from Litmus Digital stated this year that “AI is not going to replace our jobs…but someone who knows how to use it will.”
For example, in the healthcare sector, new roles like “AI-assisted radiologist” and “robotic surgery coordinator” are likely to emerge. We need to ensure that our students are well prepared for this future, both in terms of their technical skills and capabilities, and their own personal ability to learn and adapt.
As a school, we are working to expose our students to new and emerging technologies across all curriculum areas, and we believe that building the knowledge of our staff is just as important as building the knowledge of our students.
At the same time, AI highlights the importance of developing individuals who possess the ability to nurture and develop human relationships, interpersonal skills and a true sense of empathy. These skills will be vital in the future, as machines and algorithms become increasingly capable of carrying out tasks that were once the sole domain of humans.
Our students will need to be able to work alongside machines, communicating with them effectively, and understanding how they can be used to augment human abilities.
At St John’s our curriculum is already designed to foster this style of learning; we encourage our students to explore and experiment with new technologies, and we provide them with opportunities to work collaboratively, applying subject knowledge to problems that require insight, creativity, action, and a critical approach.
However, while the potential benefits of AI are vast, we must approach the technology with caution. AI has the potential to transform the world for the better, but it also has the potential to be misused.
We need to educate our students on the most ethical ways to work with AI and ensure that they understand the potential consequences of their actions. At St John’s Grammar, we place a strong emphasis on ethical considerations, and we teach our students to be responsible and thoughtful users of technology.
It is worth noting that, like many new technologies, AI may seem in its infancy now – and large-scale disruption may appear far-fetched – but in a few years these tools will most likely be commonplace.
We must be willing to embrace new technologies and adapt our teaching methods to meet the needs of our students. Our students will need to be adaptable and willing to learn throughout their lives, as technology continues to evolve at an exponential rate.
As a school, we are committed to preparing our students for an AI-driven future.
We recognise that the impact of AI on society will be profound, and we want our students to be ready to succeed in this new world. We believe that by exposing our students to new and emerging technologies, fostering student capabilities and the willingness to learn and adapt, and emphasising the importance of ethics and responsibility, we can help them to develop the skills they will need to succeed.
At the same time, we acknowledge that we must approach AI with caution, and we will continue to educate our students on the most ethical ways to work with this powerful technology. By working together, we can help our students to thrive in an ever-changing technological landscape.
Head of Technology & Enterprise
Leader of Learning & Curriculum
*Written in consultation with ChatGPT