Schools, Universities Across US Lack AI Policies and Guidelines, UNESCO Reveals


A groundbreaking UNESCO survey conducted among more than 450 schools and universities globally has unveiled a stark reality: fewer than 10% of these institutions have established formal policies or guidance on the use of generative AI applications. The survey, undertaken in preparation for the Ministerial Roundtable on Generative AI and Education on May 25, 2023, sheds light on the challenges educational systems face in adapting to the rapid rise of generative AI technologies.

Schools, Universities Across US Lack AI Policies and Guidelines, UNESCO Reveals
(Photo : UNSPLASH / Nick Morrisson)

Uncertainties in the Face of Emerging Technologies

Generative AI applications, capable of producing human-like output across various domains, including summaries, essays, art, and more, have surged in prominence. Furthermore, these technologies exhibit proficiency in scoring top marks on major standardized tests, challenging traditional assessment methods. UNESCO's survey underlines the uncertainties within education systems, emphasizing the need for institutional policies to address the evolving landscape of generative AI.

The survey results expose a significant gap in the integration of generative AI into education systems, as fewer than 10% of the surveyed institutions have developed policies or formal guidance. This vacuum of guidance underscores the challenge faced by educational institutions as they strive to catch up with the unprecedented advancements in technology.

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The Evolution of Policies at Institutional Levels

Policies governing the use and misuse of digital technologies often begin at the institutional level before being adopted at higher district, state, or national levels. The limited institutional-level policies identified by the survey suggest that educational systems are still in the process of finding their equilibrium and formulating responses to the impact of generative AI. The complexity of these issues implies that developing comprehensive, system-wide policies will require considerable time and effort.

While educational institutions grapple with policy development, generative AI, particularly exemplified by ChatGPT, has become one of the fastest-spreading digital applications in history. With over 100 million users worldwide, its growth surpasses even the rapid ascent of social media applications like Instagram and Snapchat. The lack of institutional guidance raises concerns about the unplanned integration of these technologies into education systems, potentially leading to unintended consequences.

Sobhi Tawil, the UNESCO Director for the Future of Learning and Innovation, emphasizes the urgency of addressing the current situation. Without institutional guidance, there is a risk that generative AI technologies will be integrated into education systems in unpredictable ways, with potential implications for safety, knowledge diversity, equity, and inclusion. Tawil urges educational institutions to reflect seriously on the role of these technologies and take proactive measures to ensure their responsible and effective use.

Divergent Institutional Approaches

Among the institutions that reported having policies, approximately half of them provide clear and pointed guidance, while the other half ofn these institutions leave discretion to users, allowing individual departments, classes, and teachers to determine the use of generative AI applications. Interestingly, only two institutions reported implementing a ban on the use of generative AI applications, indicating the varied approaches institutions are taking.

The survey reveals that universities are more likely to have institutional policies or guidance on generative AI compared to schools. Approximately 13% of universities reported having some form of guidance, while only 7% of schools did. This discrepancy may be attributed to universities' awareness of the profound implications generative AI has on higher education and professional credentialing.

UNESCO's survey underscores the pressing need for educational institutions to develop policies and guidance on the use of generative AI applications. As these technologies continue to reshape the educational landscape, institutions must adopt an agile and iterative approach to stay ahead of technological innovation. UNESCO's guidance on AI and education offers a valuable resource for institutions seeking to navigate the ethical and educational implications of these transformative technologies. In an era of rapid technological advancement, the challenge lies not only in understanding the capabilities of generative AI but also in shaping policies that ensure its responsible and equitable integration into education systems worldwide.

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