Unlike governments that have taken a conservative, and sometimes negative, stance on the use of an AI-powered chatbot in education, Singapore is piloting AI applications to enhance the learning experience for students and teachers alike, through adaptive learning, exam grading, and automatic feedback to students on their coding assignments.
Over the past few years, AI has taken the world by storm. Governments have been eager to reap its promised fruits across various fields. However, the debut of ChatGPT, an AI-powered chatbot, in November 2022 elicited mixed, even contradictory, reactions.
While most of the world seemed intrigued by this breakthrough, with a million users rushing to utilise it in the first week alone, other responses have been sceptical and cautious about the use of this platform at educational institutions. Public schools in cities such as Seattle and New York City have decided to ban access to ChatGPT, on the grounds that it could impair academic integrity, encourage plagiarism and hurt students' chances of acquiring basic cognitive abilities, improving their critical thinking, and developing problem-solving skills.
In view of its ambitious strategy to build a smart nation capable of adapting to future technologies, Singapore seems to have a different opinion about ChatGPT and other similar applications. It has decided to take up the challenge and explore ways to use such applications to upgrade learning experiences.
To this end, Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) is guiding teachers in schools and institutes of higher learning on how to effectively use AI tools, such as ChatGPT, to enhance learning. Moreover, realising that sooner or later, AI tools will be common among students, MOE has decided to take the initiative and equip them with the skills necessary for responsible use.
The government has identified three opportunities offered by AI[SA1] in education. The first is adaptive learning, which takes into account students’ varied interests and learning pace, while the second makes exam grading simpler and faster, and the third helps provide feedback to students on their coding assignments
Adaptive learning, which Singapore is keen to support, is an educational method that factors in the differences in students' interests, learning abilities and academic achievement to meet the individual needs of each student. It provides a more personalised learning experience, sparing students the pace of normal lesson design, which is often catered to the median. This usually causes problems, especially when slower students fall behind and lose motivation, and faster students burn out if they speed through the lessons too quickly.
Adaptive learning is also based on the fact that there is a limit to how much teachers can customise the learning experience or provide continuous feedback for every student, and that routine tasks take up time that teachers could use to improve learning experiences. Hence, Singapore has decided to integrate AI into its online learning platform, which was launched in 2018 and is accessible to all students and teachers in the national school system. Such a move will make it possible to manage the timelines for each student, as well as detect when a student is taking longer on assignments and give them more time to understand each module. Faster students, meanwhile, will gain access to each module in shorter intervals, ensuring that lessons are still paced out and preventing burnout. AI will help personalise learning by designing learning pathways for students and tracking their progress to help teachers better bridge learning gaps.
The second opportunity, which is simpler and faster exam grading, helps solve the problems of boredom and possibility of human error associated with the process. Using Computer Vision, AI tools can automate assessments to enhance teachers' ability to provide timely, efficient feedback.
The solution is a product of Singapore’s AI Centre for Educational Technologies (AICET), which has developed a programme called SoftMark to spare teachers the need to lug stacks of papers home, before going through them one by one. By recognising and deriving meaningful information from images, the programme allows teachers to easily mark on the go and avoid making mistakes, as they no longer have to worry about giving the same mark to the same answers, which boosts efficiency and fairness.
The third opportunity is to provide advanced feedback to students on their coding assignments. Current systems provide limited feedback that only shows how correct coding scripts are. They are unable to guide students on how to improve their answers or correct them towards achieving the desired outcome.
To this end, AICET has developed a programme known as Codaveri, which uses a new combination of coding languages and machine learning to give feedback to students on their coding scripts. Codaveri does not simply give students the final solution, but rather provides them with comments when it detects an error in their answers. Teachers can then review these comments and make adjustments or additions if needed.
Aside from the heated global controversy, Singapore is marching confidently towards the use of AI in education. It endeavours to equip the country’s workforce, by 2030, with the necessary capabilities to support an AI-driven economy and to have its engineers and entrepreneurs create new AI products and services to serve the local and global markets.