France introduces artificial intelligence in schools. What will Switzerland do?

Positive Aspects

What do you think of such a system? Contacted by Le Temps, Viridiana Marc, deputy general secretary of the Intercantonal Conference of Public Education in French-speaking Switzerland and Ticino, believes that it “has the advantage of providing a support and accompaniment response to students’ learning in a country where classes are overcrowded and where teachers undoubtedly struggle to provide targeted help for all their students. The adaptive learning system is not new and some devices already exist, but it is hoped that the AI used here can help to better target the needs of the students.

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But be careful, Viridiana Marc continues, “we can also criticize a certain loss of latitude for the teacher in the choice and approach to certain learning: this system certainly offers different pathways, but the approach risks being relatively recurrent and if there is richness in the classroom, it is the interactions and dynamics that a good teaching can produce. These interactions with the teacher, and among the young people, are rich and facilitate memorization. They are also part of learning to live together and cannot be replaced by a digital system.”

Envisaged Platforms

The specialist also highlights the difficulty of motivating young people and making them autonomous in their work. But, Viridiana Marc continues, “the digital support can, however, be an emulator, in the first instance no doubt, but to be seen in the longer term…”

In Switzerland, are similar projects being launched? “To my knowledge, there is no national or cantonal project identical to train the students’ knowledge, but different exercise platforms (without an AI system) are used to train the students’ knowledge,” the responsible replies. However, platforms for accompanying young people in monitoring and developing their skills have been developed for vocational training at the intercantonal and national levels. For compulsory education, there are plans to have a platform for students in French-speaking Switzerland: in full conceptualization, the question of having such tools will of course arise.”

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AI is beginning to be used in the private sector as well. The company Magma Learning, based in Lausanne, already collaborates with Ecole Ardévaz in Sion, Collège Champittet in Pully, Ecole supérieure de la santé in Lausanne, and Collège de Gambach in Fribourg. “From the course material of these schools, our AI has been able to generate thousands of micro-learning content of different formats, such as multiple-choice questions. Based on daily interactions with the students, our personal tutor gradually develops a model of each student’s knowledge, thanks to neural networks developed by our team, in collaboration with EPFL,” says Maxime Gabella, director of Magma Learning. According to him, his “AI tutor complements the courses, and the consolidation of knowledge it brings makes the interactions between students and teachers even more interesting and fruitful.”

Sovereign Systems?

In the public sector, Viridiana Marc finally draws attention to the nature of the software itself: “The digital education being implemented aims for a digital culture and digital citizenship that must allow us to think about the conditions of use imposed by these systems. It is necessary to differentiate oneself from these systems when they require personal data or develop sovereign systems in Switzerland: this will undoubtedly come very soon.”

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Finally, it is worth noting that it was learned in early December that AI will make its appearance in the spring in the schools of the city of Zug. Students will learn to use it wisely, particularly through an online platform. The city launched the project, costing 30,000 francs, in collaboration with the pedagogical universities of Zug and Lucerne. In the first instance, teachers will develop an approach to the topic and set the rules for the use of AI. They will then prepare and implement teaching hours from March 2024. Artificial intelligence will not become a subject of teaching in itself. It will be used as a method of teaching among others.

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