Human teaching must be at ‘heart of schools’ over ‘dangerous’ AI – headteacher

Human teaching must be at the “heart of schools” amid concerns over “invidious and dangerous” artificial intelligence (AI), a headteacher has said.

Sir Anthony Seldon, headteacher of Epsom College, warned of the risks of plagiarism and deepfakes, which could cause “moral damage” to young people.

It comes after a letter sent to The Times earlier this week, signed by more than 60 education figures, said schools are “bewildered” by the rate of change of AI and believe it is moving “far too quickly”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had previously said “guardrails” are to be put in place to maximise the benefits of AI while minimising the risks to society.

“Young people are young, they can’t negotiate the world very well, and so the opportunity for them to be manipulated, bullied, brought into practices, drugs, all the rest of it, is very worrying to parents, very worrying to schools.

“So, what we’re saying is, look, the tech companies have a lot of profit motive, they’re making enormous amounts of money out of the technology, that we can’t make them go away.

“We have to ensure that we provide parents, schools, teachers, with really good information about what is wholesome, stimulating, good AI and what people should be aware of because government really have caught up in the last few months, but they’re still behind the curve and they never quite understand what happens in schools.

“Parliament is doing some good work but they take a lot of time to come out with their statutes and recommendations, we have to take it into our own hands, schools, to ensure that human intelligence is at the very heart at schools, artificial intelligence will never take over from humans as long as we put human intelligence first.”

Mr Sunak has previously advocated the technology’s benefits for national security and the economy, but there are concerns with the ChatGPT bot – which has passed exams and can compose prose.

Council of Europe summit – Iceland
Rishi Sunak has said ‘guardrails’ will be put in place to maximise the benefits of AI (Alastair Grant/PA)

The letter from headteachers read: “Schools are bewildered by the very fast rate of change in AI, and seek secure guidance and counsel on the best way forward. But whose advice can we trust?

“We have no confidence that the large digital companies will be capable of regulating themselves in the interests of students, staff and schools.

“Neither in the past has government shown itself capable or willing to do so.”

The heads said they are pleased the Government is now “grasping the nettle” but added: “The truth is that AI is moving far too quickly for government or Parliament alone to provide the real-time advice that schools need.

“We are announcing today our own cross-sector body composed of leading teachers in our schools, guided by a panel of independent digital and AI experts, to advise schools on which AI developments are likely to be beneficial, and which are damaging.”

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