A for artificial intelligence

TNIE looks at the Kerala government's initiative on conducting Artificial Intelligence training programmes, how it would reflect in school education, and views from domain experts on the relevance of AI education.
Image used for representation
Image used for representation

KOCHI: A new world opened up in front of high school teacher Ajaimon M R from MGM High School, Puthencruz, as he, along with peers from across Kerala, attended a recent “summer training camp” organised by the state government. 

“It was a special one, on artificial intelligence (AI) — a topic that everyone has been discussing over the past few months,” he says. “I had used AI, and wasn’t aware of how it could be part of school education.” 

Notably, on Thursday, the government announced that it was including AI in the school curriculum.

In another big leap in education, the state has decided to include AI in school textbooks for Classes 1, 3, 5, and 7. By 2025-26, they will be introduced in Classes 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 10. 

The training programme, being held in multiple phases, was initiated at the beginning of May with the aim of upskilling about 80,000 school teachers on AI, its potential and pitfalls by August. General Education Minister V Sivankutty says, by 2025 January, about 2 lakh teachers will be trained in summarisation, image generation, prompt engineering, presentation-animation, and evaluation.

“The first day of the three-day programme was about the basics – what is AI. And then we were introduced to different tools. I realise that its scope is immense,” says Ajaimon, a Hindi teacher.  

Elizabeth Rose Lalson, a computer science teacher of Cotton Hill Girls Higher Secondary School, who attended the training in Thiruvananthapuram, says AI “is, no doubt, the new disrupter”. 

“It is great that teachers are being given training. It will help us create better plans and presentations for our students. It is critical to introduce AI to students from underprivileged backgrounds so as to avoid a digital divide,” she says.   

“That said, many students already are aware of AI, ChatGPT, etc. It is good that now all teachers can also catch up. This will help us detect when students use AI to do their homework or projects. At the camp, even older teachers, who otherwise would never use AI, were able to understand and familiarise themself with the topic.”

Ajaimon and Elizabeth say the training programme covered the negative aspects of AI as well. “I learnt that not all answers provided by AI tools are always correct. There can be biases, too. So, it is important to fact-check,” says Ajaimon.

“AI should be a tool to aid your work; it shouldn’t do the entire work for you. It can affect the critical and creative thinking of children.” 

What if students use AI for homework? What if a budding artist sees AI draw, and stops creating art? What if poems, stories and essays are written by AI?

These were some of the questions addressed at the camp. “It is important to ensure that children use AI responsibly; teachers should guide them on the right path. Being updated certainly helps,” says Elizabeth.  

‘Tryst began in 2001’

Anwar Sadath, CEO of Kerala Information and Technology for Education (KITE), says the integration of AI into the school curriculum is an extension of skilling activities that were already on for two decades.

“The tryst with IT began in 2001,” he notes.  “In 2005, IT became a mandatory subject for the SSLC examination.” 

“We have been doing this in a phased manner. The idea of an AI training programme for teachers came up after the success of our Little Kites programme, under which students had been given training in AI, robotics and the internet of things. For the programme, we trained Kite teachers. It was during this process we thought of using AI to equip the teachers. It was not merely to familiarise them with tools such as ChatGPT, but to make it more thematic.”

He adds that a major part of the training programme was to ensure the responsible use of AI, like fact-checking and identifying deep fakes. “We made them create their own deep-fake videos, so as to understand the issue better,” says Sadath. “If not used properly, AI can torpedo educational values. We need to take care of that aspect.” 

‘Need effective trainers’

Experts welcome the government’s move to introduce AI in school curricula but express concerns about the implementation part. “What is being put into the syllabus is more of theory than practicals. This model appears feasible because it requires lower investment. Maybe that’s why they are not talking of robotics,” says Rajasekharan A H, founder-CEO of STEM Robotics.

He adds that his team has been training students and teachers in several government and private schools. “From that experience, I would say the real challenge is equipping a team of effective trainers. Proper training for teachers is vital,” he says. 

“The best option then would be to get trained engineers and computer application graduates. Get freshers, and train them for three to six months so that they can teach children. The government could also consider developing an industry-institute collaboration at the school level.” 

Welcoming the government’s initiative, Josna V R, assistant professor, Government College of Engineering, Barton Hill, notes that several CBSE schools have already implemented AI courses at the high school level. “So it’s important that state syllabus schools catch up,” she says.  

“There is a marked difference in the students who have studied AI. Everything is going to be AI-influenced, even in the field of medicine. So it’s better to start young.” 

According to Sajith Thomas, career consultant at CareerTestLive, introducing AI in school syllabi should not stop with just teaching students to use the existing tools.

“That’s not going to revolutionise the education sector. Along with this, students need to be taught coding to equip them to be the future creators of AI. The thrust should be on that,” he says.  

“Only such a comprehensive approach would make students future-ready. Otherwise, the idea sounds hollow, he says, with many students falling behind the few who will seek out the knowledge.” 

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