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AI: Alleviating or Exacerbating Inequity in Education

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Maria Dawes


AI has the potential to help make education better for all learners but particularly those that are underserved and in the process improve equity and inclusion. But there are also significant risks that if we are not careful AI may exacerbate existing education inequity. What can school leaders do to ensure this does not happen?

Earlier this year Rishi Sunak said education was one of the public services he was most excited about AI's potential to transform providing "personalised learning" to children at school. Potentially in education AI could be a game changer in inclusion but there is a risk that instead of changing the game for the better it exacerbates our challenges with inequity. 

AI already has the potential to improve accessibility, provide personalised instruction, and enable students to participate more fully in the classroom. For example, AI-powered text-to-speech software can be used to read text aloud, making it easier for students with visual impairments to access written materials. AI language translators can mean instant translation of texts, worksheets and PowerPoints for children and young people at an early stage of learning English. 

AI can be used to personalise learning by rapidly adapting resources – matching them to the needs of the learners.  It can provide real-time feedback to students as well as empowering teachers and students by providing access to even more information than they have now. Such interventions can help in reducing academic disparities. 

It can also provide tools to complement human support to our students with social and mental health needs. And in the midst of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis, there is the potential of AI to be part of the solution which could be critical.  

However, there are some significant risks that this new revolution will exacerbate inequity.

Many schools have limited capacity – they are ‘just about managing’ as it is. AI expertise varies vastly as does AI interest.  There still remains a small number of pathfinders and there is significant risk of many schools being left behind or at the mercy of educational ‘sharks’ out to make a quick buck. The independent education sector is already significantly further ahead than the state sector, putting wealthier students at an unfair advantage. In turn this might lead to a widening gap in terms of AI literacy, critical thinking and the innovation skills needed as our job-market changes. 

And beyond our control is a lack of regulation and AI bias that reinforce existing educational disparities, perpetuate stereotypes, and narrows the curriculum. At its worse as AI-driven tools become more sophisticated, there is concern that they might replace human teachers or teaching assistants, particularly in resource-constrained schools. This could lead to a lack of personalised academic and emotional support that many students, particularly those facing educational challenges, rely on for their success.

So what can we do? 

Here are just a few thoughts:

• Don’t bury your head in the ground – AI will play a big role education – it is here to stay!

• Start to learn about AI – identify someone in your school to be your AI champion and task them with starting to explore the benefits and power. 

• Advocate for diverse and inclusive AI and make sure you evaluate any programmes for bias – be digitally inclusive.

• Promote critical thinking in your learners – whatever age they are. 

• And most importantly get involved and collaborate.  Initiatives such as the ‘AI in Education’ initiative are a brilliant way of staying informed and connected.

School leaders have a critical role to play in ensuring that the changes benefit pupils, teachers and society. By embracing equity-centred AI, addressing the digital divide, and promoting collaborative teaching approaches, we can harness the transformative power of AI to create a more inclusive and equitable educational landscape for all learners. The choices you make today will shape the future of education and, ultimately, the future of our society.

Key Learning