What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of artificial intelligence (AI)? Perhaps you envision robots and complex technology of the future. Or maybe you think about technological advances occurring closer to the here and now. If it’s the latter, then your thoughts align with AI today.
What once seemed far removed from our lives and classrooms is now front and center for many. Artificial intelligence is increasingly used in early childhood education settings to enhance learning opportunities for our youngest children.
How can it fit into your classroom today, and what can you expect in future years? This article outlines the impact of AI on education for early childhood educators.
What is artificial intelligence?
AI first came to be in the 1940s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that it started gaining popularity. It’s now a more significant part of our everyday lives than ever before.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a standard definition of artificial intelligence is, “The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”
Essentially, it makes human-like choices to make our lives easier, better, and more streamlined.
Some common examples of artificial intelligence you’ll see today are:
- Smart assistants, including Amazon Alexa and Siri
- Vehicles with self-driving capabilities like adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking systems
- Automated financial investing through companies such as Betterment
- Robot-assisted instruction like the MOVIA Teacher’s Aide for children with autism
Artificial intelligence in the classroom
According to Global Market Insights Inc., artificial intelligence in education could reach a value of $30 billion by 2032, up from four billion in 2022. This statistic highlights that AI is here to stay, and you’ll likely see it in the education industry even more over the next few years.
Samia Kazi, Middle East Regional Director for Childhood Education International, states, “We must get engaged and proactive on these topics immediately as educational artificial intelligence is just starting to take its first steps.”
You can incorporate artificial intelligence into just about any aspect of an early education classroom. While it can never replace traditional teaching, it can supplement quality instruction and lighten the teacher’s load.
Here are a few ways we currently incorporate AI in the classroom.
- Administrative tasks: Streamlining administrative tasks like collecting data gives teachers more time to devote to developing and delivering impactful lessons to their children.
- Assistive technology: AI can make education more accessible to children with exceptional academic, physical, and emotional needs.
- Interactive games: Children can play interactive games that teach basic academic skills while tracking vital data to help inform instruction.
- Language access: Children who speak a different language can use AI that translates, allowing for more accessible communication.
AI has the potential to streamline teachers’ tasks and give them more time to focus on educating their children.
A tool like brightwheel’s communication app allows you to centralize family communication in one platform. You can send real-time messages, emergency alerts, and newsletters, saving you time and improving family relationships.
Personalized learning using AI
One benefit of using artificial intelligence is that it allows for more personalized learning. We know the importance of shaping instruction to how children learn, but it can be challenging depending on your classroom makeup. Some children catch on to new concepts quicker than others. One child might learn better visually, while another can only grasp a concept using kinesthetic activities. Meeting each child where they are can be challenging, but AI helps to close the gap.
Artificial intelligence helps to level the playing field in some instances by making personalized learning more obtainable.
“Ultimately, AI can help teachers understand their students more accurately, more effectively,” states Rose Luckin, professor of learning-centered design at University College London.
Consider the following example:
Imagine your children entering the classroom and playing a simple game testing their academic skills. They might think it’s just a fun activity, but in reality, the system is tracking their understanding of essential reading and math concepts. You can then take the data from the activity and use it as a starting point for your instruction. Since you aren’t individually working with each child to learn their academic level, you’re free to work on other tasks while they’re on the computer, tablet, or another device.
Once your children play this game, you’ll have a general understanding of their skill level in various areas. You can then quickly adjust your instruction to meet them where they are.
That’s the beauty of AI.
The more you understand your children, the better you can shape your lessons to fit their needs. Artificial intelligence can never replace teachers, but it can enhance instruction by helping you better serve your children.
Pros and cons of AI in education
While there are various arguments for using AI in an early education setting, there are also concerns about how it’ll impact the education system. As with anything, there are benefits and drawbacks to consider when implementing a new activity, program, or system into our toolbox.
Here are some of the most common pros and cons.
Pros of artificial intelligence
- It allows for personalized tutoring: Tutoring might look different for children at the early education level, but it’s still essential to ensure they receive a solid academic foundation. The right AI program can identify areas of opportunity and guide them through activities that help them practice the skill.
- It sets the pace: Children learn at different rates, and AI can help all children learn at the speed that's right for them. This can reduce the number of children who disengage in a lesson because the teaching speed is too slow or too fast for them.
- It's accessible anywhere: Learning doesn’t have to start and stop in the classroom. AI offers more opportunities for children to receive quality practice outside of school without relying on direct parental instruction.
- It reduces the burden on teachers: Currently, we expect teachers to do everything with little to no support. AI can help reduce the burden placed on teachers. Ultimately, this can decrease burnout and keep more quality educators in the classroom.
- It better serves children with special needs: Your children with unique physical and academic needs can benefit from AI in the classroom. These additional supports can serve as accommodations helping to level the playing field.
Cons of artificial intelligence
- It can be expensive: AI varies in cost, with many programs being expensive. Classrooms without the budget for the latest technology might not be able to take advantage of these advances.
- Unintended bias: Depending on how the developers create the AI program, it may include some bias. Racial bias is the most common form to consider.
- Lack of privacy: Privacy is another concern to consider since some tools don’t have enough systems to safeguard users' privacy and data rights.
- Fear it’s replacing teachers: While we know nothing can replace quality education from a teacher, there’s still fear that advances in AI will result in instruction relying too heavily on technology.
- Teachers must learn to read the data: Artificial intelligence programs will require teachers to learn to interpret the data created by the AI system. They’ll also need to speak up if they feel the information is inaccurate in some way. Otherwise, using the programs won’t have the intended outcome.
AI in education is here to stay
Technological advances have the power to change how we operate as a society, and artificial intelligence is the major advancement of our time. It’s exciting to think about how AI can benefit our classrooms, and only time will tell how it will shape the future of education.