Schools in Estonia focus on adapting to AI rather than outright ban

Ministry of Education and Research signage. Unlike the other government ministries, which are located in Tallinn, this one is situated in Tartu.
Ministry of Education and Research signage. Unlike the other government ministries, which are located in Tallinn, this one is situated in Tartu. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

As the new school year arrives, teachers and the education ministry alike are revisiting the question of artificial intelligence (AI). The overriding opinion seems to be that instead of banning it, AI should be adapted to, and ways to make it work to one's advantage should be explored, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Monday.

AI tools such as ChatGPT are being used more and more in the course of school work, sometimes actually conferring on the student an added disadvantage compared with their usual work, rather than an advantage.

Terje Hallik, teacher at the Miina Härma High School in Tartu, told AK that: "There have been cases where the student themselves confesses [to using an AI tool]. This may seem comical; that the work seems so poor the teacher asks the student about it, noting that the work is below their usual standard, and then the student answers that ChatGPT was responsible. That is just how the first such case went."

The first cases of AI use in schoolwork appeared at the Miina Härma High School last November, and proved a concern to teachers.

The Miina Härma high school. Source: Rein Toom

While awareness of AI and its uses is now much higher than it was, there is still no software which teachers can use to identify which works have been completed with the help of the robot, having instead to rely on their own intuition.

Birgy Lorenz, senior researcher at Tallinn University of Technology's (TalTech) IT College said: "As with the advent of the tablet computer – at first there was a lot of talk, then it became clear that it wouldn't solve our problems – we still have to learn ourselves, so then we move on."

"The ethical issues [of AI] will be resolved in the next three years as the whole world discusses them. Then we can decide what we in general will allow the AI to do and what we will not allow it to do," Lorenz went on.

Birgy Lorenz also compares the situation to the Kratt, an old Estonian folkloric figure, which should not be feared, but rather how to use AI wisely should be learned.

Aivar Hiio, learning paths advisor at the Ministry of Education and Research, said: "I certainly wouldn't want to reach a situation where tasks are being completed with the help of a chatbot, solved by the student with the help of a chatbot and also checked that way. This would really be the darkest scenario you could move into, so we need to be aware of it. It is necessary to talk about it openly with the students, to discover these possibilities together and keep a clear common understanding of why it is we study in school at all."

Birgy Lorenz helped the Ministry of Education and Research in adapting new AI tech for schools in spring.

Aivar Hiio said it is important that a school has established those ground rules in which the use of AI assistance is at all permissible.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja

Source: 'Aktuaalna kaamera', reporter Kaisa Potisepp.

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