From education to employment

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan sets out importance of evidence and innovation in approach to AI

Gillian Keegan
  • Education Secretary gives opening address at Bett 2024
  • Speech calls for international collaboration to reap benefits of AI in education
  • Comes as new expert views report shows how AI could have a transformative impact on the sector

Speaking at the Bett show in London today (Wednesday 24 January), the Education Secretary encouraged the sector to innovate and explore the potential of Artificial intelligence (AI) to transform teaching and learning.

The Education Secretary argued that, alongside robust regulation and an evidence-based approach, international collaboration is key if we are to take advantage of the opportunities offered by this emerging technology.

She told the conference, which was attended by thousands of teachers, tech experts and educators:

“Since I stood on this stage in March last year, we’ve seen generative AI continue to develop at pace and spark conversations all over the globe. Those conversations have highlighted some of the opportunities and the challenges that AI might bring. 

“…Today we’re publishing our latest research on AI in education, having brought together views from our world-leading experts and educators… I want to encourage countries to continue sharing evidence as it’s generated, so we can all better harness the opportunities to make a real difference in classrooms across the world.”

She continued:

“This country’s EdTech sector contains a wealth of innovators and leaders who are looking to the future. 

“This country’s EdTech sector contains a wealth of innovators and leaders who are looking to that future. Alongside them are the brilliant educators, hundreds of whom responded to our recent call for evidence which told us how generative AI is saving hours of planning time and helping to reduce workloads.”

Caroline Wright, Director General of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) said:

“It is good to see the Education Secretary supporting the UK’s EdTech sector at BETT. BETT is the world’s largest international EdTech exhibition and underlines the UK’s importance in leading global EdTech innovation and implementation.

“Collaboration is key to successful EdTech adoption, and given the Education Secretary’s commitment to improving access and use of technology in education, it is timely that she will officially open BETT 2024 and welcome the 30,000 educators attending to learn, network and be inspired by ground-breaking technology solutions and services.” 

The Prime Minister’s AI summit at Bletchley Park last year positioned the UK as a world leader in this area, and the government is building a strong evidence base to inform its work on AI, including in education.

The speech coincides with the publication of the Educator and expert views report from the Department for Education, which contains insights from interviews with teachers, educators and academic experts, reaffirming the view that Generative AI could have a transformative impact on education.

For example, one teacher found that AI tools have helped her to personalise lessons and tailor resources for pupils. She said:

“Embracing AI in teaching not only significantly lightens my workload but also enhances my creative expression, allowing me to design more innovative and engaging learning experiences for my students.”

The report is supportive of the results of the Call for Evidence on Artificial Intelligence in education, published in November, which found that educational professionals are already embracing the opportunities offered by AI. The results of a two-day hackathon, held in October in conjunction with Faculty AI and the National Institute of Teaching, will be published in spring, further strengthening the department’s evidence base. 

Respondents felt that successful use of Generative AI within their education settings relied on having a strong digital infrastructure. To help achieve this, last week, the Department published new digital and technology standards on laptops, desktops and tablets, leadership and governance, and accessibility.  The digital and technology standards support school staff to understand their roles and responsibilities to make sure that technology is accessible for all.

The report also reveals that academic misconduct is a top concern for educators and experts alike. To tackle this, the department is working closely with its regulators and the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT), to ensure the responsible use of AI in education, informed by the AI Regulation White Paper, Published last March.

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology, Michelle Donelan, said:

“The transformative benefits of AI are already being felt across society. I know that harnessing its potential to help our young minds learn and our brilliant educators teach is something we can all get behind.

“By tapping into AI we can deliver personalised support for learners to help them in their studies, and free teachers from a range of administrative tasks to give them more time in front of the whiteboard. This will ensure we can deliver a world-leading education system in every classroom in the country.

At Bett, the Education Secretary also highlighted how the government is creating a forward-looking skills sector that is equipped to deal with AI. Last year, over 22,000 people started a digital apprenticeship, while digital Highter Technical Qualifications (HTQs) and Skills Bootcamps are helping both young and adult learners to develop their skillset and grasp the opportunities associated with AI.

Building a future-proofed skills landscape alongside a strong evidence base is helping the sector to take advantage of AI safely, allowing for innovation that could transform education for the better.

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