Cranleigh Prep School Headmaster Neil Brooks considers future uses of artificial intelligence (AI) in the classroom

Educating is an incredibly positive occupation. Schools, colleges and universities are preparing future generations, and it is human instinct to aim to better what has gone before. Society demands progression: better health provision; more efficient transport networks; secure energy supplies; increasing leisure access; clean, reliable drinking water; the list goes on and our pursuit for improvements is relentless.

Progress plays an enormous part in teaching. All stakeholders expect schools to facilitate progress at individual, group, community and societal levels when steering future generations. Naturally, that progress ends up being defined and quantified within the parameters of our current knowledge and will inevitably change in definition as our species’ understanding moves on. Look, for example, at how fossil fuels expedited progress in the 19th century and how the Industrial Revolution was heralded as a new dawn for humankind. Now, with progressed understanding and knowledge, we have tempered our enthusiasm for the internal combustion engine.

Cranleigh Prep School on making AI work in class
Cranleigh Prep School form 2 Music Technology lesson

Artificial Intelligence presents a new revolution. Without doubt, and in a similar vein to coal (no pun intended), oil and natural gas, its use will be hugely beneficial to improving the prospects and lives of many millions of people. In its relative infancy, the world is seeing huge advantages of AI applications – for instance, in healthcare to speed diagnosis. But history’s lessons should not be ignored and AI in schools should be managed with the mantra ‘everything in moderation’ at least until we all have a deeper understanding of its power and the possibilities of its influence.

Nevertheless, the sector will be doing children a disservice if it does not embrace the current technology and thoroughly explore its applications and possible benefits in school settings. Many have long believed that education needs to move away from the rote learning of facts and figures of old – it has been a strain – towards greater critical thinking and the development of solution-determining skillsets. 

AI is an obvious catalyst for that move and could even make educational experiences more bespoke to individuals. The challenge will be in getting students to learn how to use AI such that it produces truths which can be ratified. They also have to learn how to feed it with quality information such that it produces worthwhile, applicable and relevant results.

“Many have long believed that education needs to move towards greater critical thinking –  AI is an obvious catalyst for that move”

Schools can embrace AI as a tool to enhance their offering to pupils and improve educational standards, but there is much more to it than that. If the future sees Artificial Intelligence heavily threaded through our lives, then we must teach children to understand how AI works, steering them to explore possibilities for its application – just as successful engineers have adapted and applied the principles of past inventions.

AI will be innovating for the core aims of schools: teaching and learning. Surely, there is an additional expectation that it will change the way in which the school as a business is run, too, offering efficiencies in administrative functions, documentation and communication. That said, we must never lose sight of the fact that schools are about community, and it is people who must be prioritised.

Cranleigh Prep School

Further reading: Ravenscourt Park Prep on ‘marvellous mistakes’