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Use of AI in education could bolster teacher-based assessments for exams 

The introduction of AI technology into education could see teacher-based assessments featuring prominently in exams, according to the head of one of Ireland’s main education bodies.

Chief executive of Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) Paddy Lavelle was speaking as the group celebrated its annual conference.

This year marks ten years since Ireland’s 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs) were established.

Last week, Education Minister Norma Foley announced the shelving of plans for teachers to assess their own students as part of planned Leaving Cert reforms.

The Minister cited concerns around AI and announced that she has asked the State Examinations Commission to research the potential impact of artificial intelligence in teacher-based assessments.

“People talk about [AI] as both a threat and an opportunity,” Mr Lavelle said when asked how ETBs have assessed the technology.

“For us in education, I think it’s a bigger opportunity than it is a threat.”

The introduction of spell and grammar checkers and word processors has helped to shift the focus in teaching from being pedantic about spelling to focusing more on developing students’ ideas, and the use of AI could see similar results, he said.

AI also presents a lot of opportunities for teachers, he believes, adding that he spoke to a teacher recently who is using AI to generate interesting and relevant archival material to animate their lessons.

“Textbooks used to be static, whereas now they are dynamic and there will be some interactivity built into the textbook.”

AI could also be used as predictive analysis to monitor students’ performance or to help address particular learning needs. “They are dangers, and the thing that has been focused on is that it can be used to generate an essay for someone.

That’s being seen as a bad thing, and in a sense it is, but we kind of have that in the system already where teachers give template essays to students at Leaving Cert and ask them to learn them off by heart and repeat them in exams.

“If you know AI can do it, you’ll be much more alert to what it is that you are looking for. It won’t be a perfectly written essay, it’ll be some insight that is definitely generated by the student and can be assessed as being generated by the student because the teacher was there with them as they were doing it.

“That focus forces us back towards teacher-based assessment because the teacher in the classroom knows how the students’ performance is going. I think there is going to be much more of a leaning on the professional integrity of teachers and the professional competence of teachers to assess as they go through this new insight into what AI will do and won’t do.”

Meanwhile, ETBI has distanced itself from a group purporting to represent parents in ETB schools that has been promoting an event that opposes the new Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme.

In a statement, it said the group, the ETB Schools’ National Parents Association, is not recognised by the Department of Education as a representative body for parents of children attending ETB schools.

“ETBs do not provide funding to the ETB Schools’ NPA, and have not done so since 2020.”

ETBI fully endorses the revised curriculum as it is in line with its ethos as State, co-educational, multi-denominational schools, it added.