AI plans: Teachers, students and parents must take centre stage 

The rise of artificial intelligence in education was a priority when Federation met with the NSW Department and then the Education Minister this week to put the union’s position before a meeting of state education ministers. 

Senior Vice President Amber Flohm told Federation’s Annual Conference on Tuesday 4 July that while it was almost impossible to anticipate the march of technology “there is little doubt that the current advances in technology and ever-expanding generative AI available provides opportunities for teachers to facilitate and enhance their work”. However, “significant questions around the resourcing for schools, equitable access to technology and dangers with inherent biases, discrimination and human rights for students and professional rights for teachers remain unresolved to date,” she said. 

Before teachers can effectively engage in any potential use of AI for their own work they must be provided with, and supported to, have opportunities to develop a deep understanding of the systems, tools and applications. This includes the purposes and uses of the technology as they relate to school systems, teachers’ roles and students. 

Privacy of student and teacher data is paramount in any technologies rolled out in schools. Not only do teachers, students and parents need to understand what data is being collected, they also have rights to know if, when and how they are engaging with AI systems, applications and tools. 

Conference endorsed a recommendation to work with the government and Department to ensure any implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) systems and tools in schools is underpinned by robust governance models and ethical frameworks and guidelines that enshrine the principles of social justice and human rights as core for the system and provision of public education in NSW.  

“The time for quick fixes in the name of reducing the work of teachers cannot be used as a rationale for implementing AI programs for schools, teachers and students. A full and transparent debate about its evidence, purpose and intent, efficacy and pedagogical value for students, and the professional and industrial implications, alongside genuine discussions of risks, challenges and potential impacts must be at the forefront,” Ms Flohm said. 

“These include the safety of teachers and students in relation to their privacy of data, the security of that data, and the need for all of us in public education to come together – teachers, students and parents – to be assured that data privacy, date security and governance and accountability measures are in place.  

“The pace of change is a considerable challenge and risk for us, and the need to anticipate the technology and remain ahead of the game.” 

Ms Flohm said there were industrial implications for the teaching profession, “some of which are obvious to us now and others that will emerge as AI continues to develop”.  

“But they go to the heart of so many of our battles and our ongoing struggle to maintain our professional standing, status and autonomy. Our hours of work and the impact of new technologies such as AI could potentially have on the role of the teacher, our qualifications and respect for the expertise, knowledge and skill of teachers in developing curriculum, including assessment and reporting, and their implementation are paramount.” 

Annual Conference supported an ongoing commitment to, and engagement in, research for AI in education, for the benefit of the public education system, its teachers and students. This commitment includes commissioning research focusing on the work of teachers, for the purpose of informing Federation’s policy as AI technology changes. 

Conference endorsed the following preconditions for implementation of AI in schools: 

  • Providers of AI technology and tools in schools are to be centralised by the Department to ensure ethical considerations, quality assurance processes and requisite probity and accountability occurs. This will effectively prohibit individual approaches by Edtech companies to schools directly and provide greater confidence for teachers, students and parents for the use in schools.  
  • Implementation of AI in schools and public education workplaces must be supported by both initial and ongoing intensive resourcing for teacher professional development and the requisite time to undertake it.  
  • The Department must be responsible for the ongoing oversight, management and operations of AI systems and tools and to ensure they are fit for purpose and operating as was and is intended. Ongoing genuine negotiation with the union will be central to formulating this responsibility given the pace of technological change and the inherent potential risks.  
  • Clear and transparent accountability mechanisms and procedures for any potential impacts of an AI system or application must be provided and communicated to teachers and schools.  
  • Teachers must be respected as professionals, and classroom pedagogical approaches and curriculum implementation, including assessment and reporting, will remain the domain of the expert, the teacher. Any attempts to mandate or impose AI tools in this realm will be rejected and opposed.  
  • The Department must legally protect teachers from any deliberate or accidental misuse of data by others. 

The HSC was also raised as a concern, with Conference deciding the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) must be responsible for developing policy and communicating with schools about AI and the HSC. This policy is urgently needed, with schools yet to receive any communication from NESA about the implications for HSC assessments and major works. 

Ms Flohm highlighted the commitment to the principles endorsed at June Council for the development and implementation of Federation’s Charter of Teachers Work. These principles include: 

  • Respect for, and adherence to, the professionalism and expertise, knowledge and skills of teachers 
  • Curriculum implementation that places teachers as the developers and drivers of pedagogies in their classrooms 
  • Assessment and reporting practices that are both fit for purpose and aligned to teachers, students and parent needs 
  • System support for teachers to undertake their work, including the employment of permanent NSBTs, specialist teachers and access to appropriate additional supports and services as deemed necessary by teachers  
  • Provision of, and access to, high-quality professional development for all teachers that is recognised and meets the needs of teachers, supports their professional growth and enhances their work 
  • The provision of adequate time within the school day and across the school year, including additional School Development Days, to enable teachers to collaborate and focus on their core work of teaching students. 

Federation will continue to communicate with members as developments unfold.