Digital Socrates: Solution and Challenges to Education – KSInsights May 2024

Published on 05 Jun 2024

A few days back, I stumbled upon a video featuring Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy. In this presentation, Khan explored the burgeoning potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and large language models (LLMs) to transform into everyone’s personal tutor. This idea struck me as both fascinating and pivotal, hinting at a revolutionary shift in how we approach education.

The current educational system, with its one-size-fits-all pedagogy, has long been under scrutiny. Its rigidity fails to accommodate the diverse learning needs of individual students, often treating educational institutions more like factories that churn out future workers rather than spaces for intellectual and personal growth. This model prioritizes conformity, focusing on instilling knowledge and behaviors that serve the economic system rather than fostering independent thought and creativity.

Indeed, the traditional educational paradigms are more akin to training camps that prepare students to perform specific roles within the confines of predetermined economic needs. This approach severely limits the scope of learning, where education is not about exploration and self-discovery, but about molding individuals to fit into specific societal slots. It’s an antiquated notion that sees educational institutions not as places of broad-based learning, but as mere stepping stones to employment.

Khan suggests that AIs and LLMs could herald a new era where education is truly personalized—a long-sought ideal. Imagine a system where learning is deeply customized not only to the intellectual levels but also to the personal interests of each student. Here lies the promise of AI as a “Digital Socrates,” echoing the ancient philosopher’s method of tailored questioning and dialogue to draw out knowledge and encourage deep thinking.

However, the path to transforming AI into such a personalized educational tool is fraught with complexity. Historically, the notion of a bespoke curriculum delivered by a teacher who not only imparts knowledge but also dynamically responds to the needs of each student has been deemed impractical on a large scale. Critics often cite insurmountable logistical and economic constraints. It’s a reflection of broader societal choices where financial austerity is often prioritized over investments in human capital development.

Yet, this perspective is myopic and ultimately self-defeating. By scrimping on the very systems that educate and shape future generations, we undermine our collective potential. The advancement of AIs and LLMs offers a tantalizing glimpse into a future where such limitations can be overcome. These technologies have the potential to deliver educational experiences that are not only tailored but also scalable, providing each learner with a personalized educational journey that mirrors having a tutor as adept and insightful as Socrates himself.

The integration of AIs into education could democratize learning, making high-quality, personalized education accessible to all. This would not only transform how knowledge is imparted but could fundamentally reshape the educational landscape by making learning a more empathetic and responsive experience. In such a world, education would no longer be just about preparing for the workforce but about nurturing well-rounded and critically thinking individuals.
As we stand on the brink of this transformative shift, it is crucial to critically assess both the capabilities and the limitations of AIs and LLMs in educational settings. The vision of AI as a “Digital Socrates” is not just about technological feasibility but also about a philosophical reimagining of what it means to educate and be educated.

As a policy researcher deeply invested in the nuanced implications of integrating AI into our educational system, I find the vision of a “Digital Socrates” both inspiring and daunting. While the concept promises a revolution in personalized education, several critical areas require careful consideration and proactive policy adjustments to fully realize this potential and mitigate associated risks.

Addressing Infrastructure Readiness and Access Issues

The first major area of concern is the digital divide that underlies the “digital” part of “Digital Socrates.” Despite a high internet penetration rate of 97.4% in Malaysia, this figure masks significant disparities in the quality of access. Many students, particularly in rural areas, rely on unreliable devices and have intermittent or poor-quality internet service. The irony of digital learning today is that while some urban schools are well-equipped, rural schools often struggle with basic digital infrastructure, making the implementation of even conventional e-learning platforms challenging.

The introduction of AI-based education systems like “Digital Socrates” demands robust digital infrastructure. It is imperative to prioritize investments in high-quality internet services and learning devices for these under-served areas. This would involve not only upgrading physical infrastructure but also ensuring affordable and reliable access to technology. Such an approach would help circumvent current obstacles related to teacher shortages and the inaccessibility of physical school locations, making education more equitable.

Ensuring Ethical AI Development and Deployment

The second area that demands attention is the governance of AI, particularly in educational applications. Currently, Malaysia lacks a comprehensive AI policy, especially one that addresses the development and use of AI in education. Without such frameworks, there is a risk of unchecked AI development that could lead to undesirable outcomes, including the exacerbation of existing inequalities.

Concerns around the biases inherent in the datasets used to train LLMs highlight the need for stringent standards on AI transparency and accountability. Multiple research papers have pointed out that if these biases are not addressed, they could perpetuate and even amplify stereotypes and unfair representations within the educational content delivered by AI systems.

Therefore, it is crucial for policymakers to establish guidelines that ensure the ethical development of educational AI. These guidelines should mandate the auditing of AI algorithms for biases, enforce the inclusion of diverse data sets, and require AI developers to disclose the design and decision-making processes of their systems.

Crafting Comprehensive AI Education Policies

To fully prepare for the integration of “Digital Socrates,” Malaysia must develop and implement a comprehensive policy framework that:

  1. Enhances Digital Infrastructure: Ensure all schools, particularly in rural and underserved areas, are equipped with reliable internet access and modern digital learning tools.
  2. Regulates AI Development: Create clear regulations that guide the ethical development of AI tools in education, focusing on transparency, accountability, and inclusivity.
  3. Promotes Digital Literacy: Implement national programs to boost digital skills among students and educators, preparing them to effectively utilize advanced AI-driven platforms.
  4. Addresses Equity and Access: Develop policies that specifically target the reduction of educational disparities through technology, ensuring that “Digital Socrates” does not become a privilege for the few but a universal tool for all learners.
  5. Fosters Public-Private Partnerships: Encourage collaborations between government, technology providers, and educational institutions to drive innovation while aligning with national educational goals.

The transition to AI-enhanced education is not merely a technological upgrade but a transformative shift in how we conceive of and deliver education. As such, it requires careful planning, significant investment, and ongoing scrutiny to ensure it serves as a tool for enhancing educational outcomes and not as another layer of complexity on an already strained system. As we move forward, the goal should be to harness AI not just as a technological achievement, but as a means to enrich, democratize, and humanize education across Malaysia.

Conclusion

In envisioning the integration of AI and LLMs into education—our very own “Digital Socrates”—we stand on the brink of a transformative educational paradigm. This shift promises tailored, responsive, and engaging learning experiences that can potentially overcome the longstanding limitations of our current system. However, the journey towards this revolutionary shift is fraught with complex challenges that require deliberate, thoughtful policy intervention.

To ensure that the transition to AI-enhanced learning environments is successful and equitable, a multifaceted approach is necessary. This includes upgrading digital infrastructure, particularly in underserved areas, to ensure that every student has access to reliable technology and connectivity. It also demands the creation of rigorous regulatory frameworks that guide ethical AI development, focusing on transparency, fairness, and accountability to prevent the perpetuation of biases and inequalities.

Moreover, it is essential to foster digital literacy across all levels of society to prepare educators and learners to navigate and maximize the benefits of AI-driven tools. Policies must also strategically address the digital divide, ensuring that AI in education does not widen existing disparities but instead acts as a leveller, offering high-quality, personalized education to all.

The potential of AI as a “Digital Socrates”—a wise, personal tutor for every learner—is immense. It holds the promise of democratizing education, making personalized learning accessible to all, and preparing a future workforce with diverse and comprehensive skills. However, realizing this vision requires more than technological implementation; it demands a concerted effort from policymakers, educators, and the tech community to create an inclusive, equitable educational framework that truly meets the needs of every student.

Embracing these challenges head-on and fostering a collaborative approach to policy and implementation, Malaysia can lead by example in the global movement towards AI-enhanced education. This is not just an investment in technology but an investment in our future generation, ensuring they are equipped to navigate and thrive in an increasingly complex world. With thoughtful implementation, the dream of having a “Digital Socrates” in every classroom could well become a reality, marking a new era of inspired and informed teaching and learning.


Date

05 Jun 2024