How Far We've Come with NGS Super - Tech in the classroom… from Rudd-tops to AI

Part 6: Tech in the classroom… from Rudd-tops to AI

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Where shall we begin?

You'd be hard-pressed to find a better starting point than an old-school chalkboard… Today, it's all about interactive whiteboards hooked up to the internet. Pretty emblematic, eh?

It sure is. Tell me about it…

This shift started in the early 2000s, and governments put in millions of dollars to facilitate that change. 

Tech costs can be no joke…

You got that right. For example, 16 years ago, Labor hopeful Kevin Rudd promised laptops to every student in years 9-12. The initiative ended up costing $2.1 billion, and the devices earned the nickname "Rudd-tops."

How did that play out?

The rollout was slow, and the devices were… clunky. In the end, the program was deemed unsustainable, and students were told to bring their own laptops to school.

So, not exactly a triumph...

True, but heaps of experts said the underlying idea was solid. The rationale was that the adoption of digital technology was advancing rapidly, and students needed to become digitally literate to thrive. So the program did facilitate that change. 

And the downside? 

Well, with that change came the digital divide… Laptops and internet access don’t grow on trees, and it’s posed a significant challenge for disadvantaged families. The United Nations has reported that 1 in 3 low-income households in Australia lack internet access. And that percentage is higher for those living in regional and remote areas. 

That was a huge issue during COVID…

It sure was when so many students moved to remote learning.

Geez, wasn’t that a time..

Absolutely. But the flip side is that the use of the technology has opened the door to the potential for remote learning opportunities in the future.

And what's the deal with AI?

Products like ChatGPT have only been on the scene for a year, but it's already reshaping the technology conversation in the classroom. And that’s a nice segue into the next bit...

Where are we today?

Starting next year, Australian schools will permit the use of generative AI like ChatGPT and Bard. That happened in October when a framework revised by the national AI taskforce was unanimously adopted at an education ministers meeting.

The context: When these generative AI products blasted onto the scene, the first response from most Aussie states and territories was to ban their use to avoid plagiarism.

But…: Many Independent and Catholic schools were allowing the use of generative AI, and after a bit of consideration, ministers agreed that not allowing public students access to the same tech could put them behind. 

The numbers:

• 50% - of all primary school children are using computers in the classroom once or twice a week. And 31% of students in upper primary school grades are using them at least 3 times a week. 

• 25% - of the 50,000 Aussie kids enrolled in The Smith Family's Learning for Life program don’t have an internet connection at home. The program offers additional support to children to help them stay engaged in education and break the cycle of poverty.

• $1 million - the amount of funding that will be provided to Education Services Australia – a not-for-profit educational technology company owned by our education departments – to establish rules for the use of generative AI technology in our schools.

Where to from here?

• In May this year, Education Minister Jason Clare announced a parliamentary inquiry into the use of generative AI in the education system. It’s currently holding hearings, but as we mentioned, our education ministers have already agreed to lift the ban of AI ban from Term 1 2024. The inquiry is looking at what risks and opportunities the new technology could create for children, students, educators and systems.

• Australian universities, including the Group of 8, are already adapting to AI. While the use of pen-and-paper exams has increased for now, they’ve said assessments will be re-designed to incorporate AI. The University of South Australia allows the disclosed use of AI, like ChatGPT, while the University of Tasmania is considering using AI to speed up marking times.

• The flip side of this is that teachers and professors will need training to adapt to AI technology. The Education Union has been vocal about not replacing teachers who they say are best placed to deliver and modify learning for students with diverse needs in the classroom. However, it agrees that AI could complement them.

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