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AI Can Be a Gamechanger for Education in India

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AI Can Be a Gamechanger for Education in India

ChatGPT and similar technologies provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to revamp India’s age-old teaching practices. 

AI Can Be a Gamechanger for Education in India
Credit: Depositphotos

All of a sudden, ChatGPT is everywhere – and its explosive popularity in the education sector has been a headache for Indian educators.

A large language model developed by the American artificial intelligence research company OpenAI, ChatGPT can generate human-like text responses to various prompts and questions. AI-based tools like ChatGPT can perform tasks more efficiently and in the shortest time possible with their advanced machine and deep learning capabilities. For instance, in the few months of its existence, ChatGPT can already answer complex math-related questions and generate useful computer codes in mere seconds. Similarly, it can create PowerPoint presentations virtually from scratch; all one needs are the appropriate commands and prompts.

As ChatGPT and similar AI applications remain poised to usher in a disruptive paradigm shift in the learning and teaching process, educators find it hard to accept this interference. Some of the main concerns they harbor include AI promoting academic misconduct and malpractice, fostering laziness, limiting the development of critical thinking skills, increasing screen time, and students learning from inaccurate sources.

Therefore, despite AI’s potential to boost productivity, several educational institutions in India have rushed to ban such tools. Notably, India’s national-level Bboard of school education, known as the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), has already banned the use of ChatGPT for its annual exams.

However, does the hyper-cautious, defensive stance adopted by educators and parents toward integrating AI in education make sense in India’s context?

The Indian education system continues to value and promote rote learning and memorization, so much so that rote learning often becomes the most preferred strategy to top exams in India. Perhaps barring a few, even the most highly competitive exams in the country are by far a test of candidates’ ability to memorize information. Even though several policies have been put in place over the years to address this – the National Education Policy 2020 being the most significant – India has not been able to significantly alter how teaching and learning are conducted in the nation’s educational institutions.

As a result, India has been scoffed at in the international job market for producing sub-par degrees. According to a report published in 2020, 80 percent of engineering graduates in India are unemployable.

Therefore, transforming the Indian education system requires rethinking teaching and learning methods and strategies – and AI has a role to play. ChatGPT’s ability to produce information at the press of a button and its potential to act as personal trainer and coach suggest that it’s high time we rethink the role of teachers in classrooms. In an AI-driven learning environment, teachers are not merely knowledge providers but also facilitators.

Similarly, student assessments and evaluations need to focus on promoting creativity and critical thinking. We need to complement the use of AI in classrooms with interactive pedagogical practices. For example, the Think-Pair-Share (TPS) strategy can be a good starting point for fostering active learning. Developed by Dr. Frank Lyman, TPS is a cooperative learning method where students are given questions and instructed to think about their responses before being asked to share their thoughts and answers with fellow classmates. A few students are then individually invited to share their answers in front of the class.

Participative learning methods such as TPS can go a long way in terms of developing communication skills and improving critical thinking and reflection. It is vital to nurture young and dynamic minds to think and grow with AI to prepare them for a fast-evolving digital world.

Moreover, AI tools also hold significant potential for teachers to reduce their workload vis-à-vis planning, delivering, evaluating courses, and doing administrative tasks. This means that there is more time to focus on students. This is particularly valuable as India faces an acute shortage of teachers. As of 2017, India’s 32.75 students per teacher ratio was well above the world average of 21.75 students per teacher. This situation has not improved considerably, with reports as recent as 2023 suggesting approximately 120,000 schools in India have just one teacher each.

However, when discussing the optimal integration of AI into the field of education, a critical reflection on the policy viability and critical infrastructure is imperative. Notably, NITI Aayog’s 2021 report titled “National Strategy for AI for All” recognized the potential of AI in education as a focus area of intervention. Yet widespread adoption of technology in the education sector remains a distant possibility.

This is despite successful cases of AI deployment in the education sector in the country in the past. For instance, the state of Andhra Pradesh and Microsoft collaborated as early as 2016 to utilize extensive data to curb school dropout rates. Ironically, such proactive deployment of AI remains rare today. If anything, this underlines the disconnect between policy vision and action.

Lastly, all debates around revamping India’s educational system in line with AI would be futile if India fails to bridge its massive digital divide. Oxfam’s “India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide” suggests that approximately 70 percent of Indians have poor or no internet connectivity and access to digital services. India also has low digital literacy – even among those with access, almost 60 percent of the rural population still does not actively use the internet. Access to and use of the internet are further divided along income, geography, caste, and gender parameters. Government schemes like Digital India, BharatNet, National Digital Literacy Mission, and the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan are far behind in meeting their objectives. Ground-level policy interventions are crucial for the promotion of equitable and inclusive use of AI.

Rarely does any technology that can radically alter our lives arrive without corresponding downsides. Technology is about how we use and mold it to fit our requirements and objectives. In this dynamic, AI’s mainstreaming signifies that instead of fumbling and detracting, there should be rigorous endeavors to find new pathways for its accommodation and integration.

With the transformative potential of ChatGPT precisely lying in changing the course and environment of learning and assessment, it is incumbent upon us to direct it on the right trajectory for best use. Therefore, integrating AI into education should be a step in the right direction. It is important to approach the advent of ChatGPT as an opportune moment to improve some of the inefficiencies of India’s educational system.