Politics & Society

The Promise and the Challenge of AI in Education

Humankind has long prided itself on innovation, creativity and intellect as the singular advantages that have propelled it to its role as the dominant species on earth. The rapid ascent of artificial intelligence (AI) is now testing these longheld convictions, challenging not only the natural order of traditional power structures and social contracts, but also the very nature of what it means to be human.

Reactions to this unprecedented phenomenon have been very human indeed. Some have called for heavy regulation and restriction on the use of AI, fearing future retribution by coldly efficient death machines (think, The Terminator). Others have seized upon this transcendent computing power in the hope of achieving rapid, profound advances in industries from health care and education to transportation and manufacturing and beyond.

The reality of the positive potential of AI and the risks AI poses lies somewhere in between, blurring the lines between profitability and morality, technology and humanity.

The transformational nature of this technology suggests that AI has the potential to revolutionize countless industries and occupations across the globe. Open AI’s Generative AI product Chat GPT has so far led the pack in public recognition and early adoption, logging 100 million active monthly users within just two months of launching, and quickly becoming the innovative, yet disturbing poster child for AI.

But behind AI’s creation of flawed news stories, catchy tunes and surreal artwork are massive opportunities for those able to employ AI’s tools in constructive ways, such as fostering a more productive and competitive workforce and supercharging innovation. Recognizing this, businesses around the world, from tech titans such as Amazon (Amazon Web Services), Google (Bard) and Microsoft (Bing, and Co-Pilot integrated in the Microsoft Office suite) to small startups, are battling to develop the cleverest synthetic learning machines.

Yet, concern continues to grow around all-too familiar issues inherent in any technological disruption: job displacement, workplace privacy and surveillance, harmful bias, and inequity. And unlike previous technological revolutions that threatened blue-collar jobs, AI has shown that white-collar jobs often requiring four-year degrees, such as those for accountants, journalists and HR professionals, are now at risk.

Less than a decade ago, disruption in the workplace was largely focused on the risks and rewards of automation. Were robots coming to replace human workers, or to augment their capabilities and free up workers for more innovative pursuits?

Fast-forward to today, and creative fields once thought to be inoculated against machine competition, such as fiction writing, acting, storytelling, art and music are undeniably threatened by synthetic competition. The 2023 Hollywood screenwriters’ and actors’ strikes are prime examples of the high stakes at play, with the usage of AI-generated material playing a central role in negotiations. While AI can enhance and support aspects of these jobs and skills, unique human qualities and abilities, such as empathy, critical thinking, innovation, teamwork, leadership and others, remain difficult to replicate fully with current AI technology.


Worries about these issues are especially acute in education. Legitimate concerns about computer-enabled student cheating are widespread, as are concerns about long-term declines in student performance and critical thinking skills. At the same time, proponents tout advantages such as streamlining teacher workloads and personalizing student lessons. The key now for education and workforce development policymakers is to balance the potential dangers of AI with the possible benefits of the technology.

The crucial challenge for educators is to arm workers with the technical skills needed in this rapidly evolving workplace while emphasizing unique characteristics that only people possess. More specifically, how can society mitigate the potential pitfalls of AI in this space (plagiarism, job displacement, inequity, etc.) while maximizing the benefits of the technology?

AI has the capacity to assist both the educator and student in this setting in such tasks as:

  • Curriculum Enhancement: Use AI to broaden content and the ways it is delivered, and customize lessons to meet individual student needs.
  • Assessment and Grading: Implement AI-driven assessment tools to provide timely and personalized feedback to students and educators.
  • Teacher Support: Assist educators with AI tools for lesson planning, classroom management and professional development.
  • Ethical AI Education: Include AI ethics and responsible AI usage in the curriculum to ensure students and faculty are aware of the implications and potential biases of AI.

There are already a host of AI tools supplying these capabilities and operating in classrooms today, freeing up educators from routine tasks to allow them to better use their time. Khanmigo, for instance, is an AI-powered online learning system capable of tailoring lessons and curricula to individual students. OpenAI has developed a guide for teachers using ChatGPT in classrooms. Products such as Gradescope can assist with student assessment and feedback.

While these tools are extremely powerful, they are much less useful, and even harmful, if misused. A very real concern for educators is plagiarism using AI to craft assignments in seconds without doing any real work. This apprehension is warranted, as there have been many reports of secondary and postsecondary students admitting that they have used AI to complete schoolwork. One survey found that nearly onethird of U.S. college students have used ChatGPT to complete a written assignment. To help mitigate this challenge, educators are focusing on honing students’ critical thinking and collaborative skills when utilizing this technology.

Heightened understanding of AI’s strengths and weaknesses will better prepare students for the current work environment, but falls short of providing a stable career pathway through retirement. The rapid disruptive effects of AI on the workforce are resulting in a constant shifting of desired skills and competencies needed in the future workforce. To counter this, lifelong learning opportunities will be needed across the workforce such as those provided through the individual learning accounts model successfully employed in France. AI can help enhance this field, too, as it presents opportunities for increased workforce development efficiencies in skills assessment, job matching, continuous learning and labor market analysis.


In addition to establishing a system for increased vigilance against cheating, safeguards are also needed to ensure equitable access to these tools, and to ensure data and privacy protections for users. The European Commission proposed the first EU regulatory framework for AI in 2021, and amended it in June 2023 to address these challenges. Rather than relying on blanket regulations, the AI Act calls for rules and obligations to be enforced depending on risk levels to health, safety or individual rights. For example, unacceptable (banned) applications would include government social scoring or realtime biometric identification, while minimal risk activities, such as spam filters or video games, would receive a lighter touch.


Given the unparalleled speed of adoption of AI, along with its ability to disrupt nearly every occupation and industry across the world, policymakers are faced with limited options to harness this rapidly evolving technology. There will undoubtedly be winners and losers in this competition. For good or ill, these will largely be determined by those who embrace AI and maximize its benefits, and those displaced by it.

Rather than restricting the use of AI in workforce development and the workplace, policymakers should be looking to maximize its potential by aligning workforce development and education systems to the future of work. Instead of trying to predict jobs and skills of the future, decision-makers should look to assess what current knowledge, skillsets and abilities best align with the adoption and usage of AI, and how to better align workforce development systems (public and private postsecondary education, private education providers) to be nimbler to meet these rapidly changing skill demands. If carried out in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, the usage of AI in learning and workplace settings could usher in an educational renaissance that amplifies rather than replaces human productivity.


A purposeful and nuanced policy framework is necessary to align workforce development and education systems with AI capabilities for the future of work. Rather than restricting AI usage, education and workforce development programs could employ AI tools to enhance teaching and learning opportunities. This will empower educators to utilize technology for education and workforce development, boosting their effectiveness.

Students should similarly be empowered to employ AI technology in learning environments to augment productivity to achieve learning goals. Adoption of this technology should be done in conjunction with increased emphasis on collaboration, critical thinking and other human-centric skills that are less likely to be replicated by technology.

Policymakers should also support lifelong learning opportunities for workers to help keep their skillsets relevant in an evolving workplace.

Lastly, policymakers should enhance AI regulations to promote accountability, transparency and equitable access to AI, as well as safeguard data privacy and other protections for users.


Originally published
in System Updates: Resetting the Future of Work

Joe Wilcox