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UNESCO and Cetic.br launch the Spanish version of ‘AI and education: Guidance for policy-makers’

On 26 April 2022, UNESCO’s Education Sector, Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean in Santiago (OREALC/UNESCO Santiago), and category 2 centre the Regional Center for Studies on the Development of the Information Society (Cetic.br) in Brazil co-organized the launch of the Spanish version of UNESCO’s publication “AI and education: Guidance for policy-makers”.

Developed within the framework of the implementation of the 2019 Beijing Consensus, the publication is aimed at fostering AI ready policy-makers and reaffirms UNESCO’s humanistic vision on the use of AI as reflected in the 2021 Recommendation on the Ethics of AI adopted at the last UNESCO General Conference by 193 Member States.

The event was held online and was attended by more than 300 participants from over 40 countries. The objective of the launch was to facilitate policy debates among relevant stakeholders on how AI can be leveraged to accelerate the achievement of SDG 4. After the presentation of the publication, representatives of Ministries of Education from Latin America and the Caribbean were invited to participate in a high-level panel discussion.

The event undoubtedly constituted a relevant space for regional dialogue on the key role of education in the development of skills for work and life in the AI era. It also provided an opportunity to share innovations, reflections and policy measures adopted in the region and to shed light on how best to ensure the equitable, ethical and effective use of AI in education.

In her opening address, delivered on her behalf by Mr Ramon Irirarte, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education Ms Stefania Giannini reminded the audience about the challenges faced by the region in leveraging digital technologies to achieve quality education for all. “The COVID-19 crisis has been an opportunity to recognize the strategic role of technologies such as AI in building more robust and resilient education systems in the region. This launch event will serve as the first step in a series of capacity-building activities to support the development of national policies and strategies to leverage AI to accelerate the achievement of SDG 4 in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

To complete Ms Giannini’s opening address, Mr Valtencir Mendes, Chief of Section at UNESCO Santiago, contextualized the publication in relation to the Regional Forum on AI in Latin America and the Caribbean organized in Sao Paulo in 2019 and the regional launch of the Beijing consensus in Buenos Aires the same year. “AI can respond to the needs being manifested in the region and it is already empowering different systems across Latin America and the Caribbean. So we believe that we should look closer at the meaning of all of this for the region.”

To end the opening ceremony, Mr Alexandre Barobosa, Manager at Cetic.br shared his hopes that the launch event would facilitate the dissemination of the guidelines among relevant stakeholders in the region. “We hope that this publication will contribute to the deployment of AI having a positive impact on education in our countries and, through it, on society in general.”

Following the opening remarks, Mr Fengchun Miao, UNESCO’s Chief of the Unit for Technology and AI in Education, presented an overview of the main contents of the publication and emphasized the relevance of utilizing the guidance to leverage the opportunities and address the risks presented by AI in education. As Mr Miao summarized, the guidance begins by introducing the essentials of AI such as its definition, techniques, technologies, capacities and limitations. It then moves into a detailed analysis of the emerging trends and implications of AI for teaching and learning. In particular, it provides recommendations to ensure that the adoption of AI in education protects human rights, and promotes inclusion, equity and gender equality. Additionally, the guidance provides a discussion of the challenges of harnessing AI to achieve SDG 4. Finally, the publication concludes with concrete actionable recommendations for policy-makers to plan policies and programmes for local contexts.

As part of the panel, representatives from Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay were invited to address two questions posed by Mr Alexandre Barbosa, Manager at Cetic.br.

Panelists were first invited to present the key national strategies or initiatives being implemented in their country, or that their country was planning to develop to leverage artificial intelligence in order to address the challenges of achieving SDG4, in particular, equitable and quality learning. As a follow up to the first question, country representatives were asked about their strategy to enhance the governance of AI in education and to develop their country’s capacity to ensure that AI will be used as a common good for education and for humanity.

In the case of Costa Rica, Ms Gabriela Castro Fuentes, Director of Educational Technology Resources at the Ministry of Public Education, indicated that AI is not yet being implemented in administrative and educational systems, but she emphasized the progress made in automating and digitalizing processes through the ministerial platform SABER. This platform provides a centralized database and enrolment information, and facilitates access for all students to digital resources. The Ministry is also implementing a system called SIRIMEP to record the assessments of all students and enable data-driven decision-making. By August 2022, the Ministry of Costa Rica expects to implement a module in the SABER ministerial platform to identify students at risk, which would be a first step in implementing AI driven algorithms.

On behalf of the Ministry of Education of the Dominican Republic, Mr Jimmy Rosario, Director General of Technology, presented the robotic programme that the Ministry has been implementing in public schools across the country. The Ministry has undertaken several activities in the field of capacity building in robotics and many schools have been provided with robotic kits. Training of students and teachers to use the robotics kits have also been organized. The Ministry is currently working to develop the new curriculum and to define the themes to be included, which offers a good opportunity to further integrate ICT and AI into the curriculum.

Dr Vimala Kamalodeen, who previously worked in the Curriculum Development Division of the Ministry of Education of Trinidad and Tobago, is now working as an educational researcher and teacher educator at the University of the West Indies. She underlined the importance of partnerships in leveraging AI and technology in education due to the complexity of the phenomenon and the necessity to have this conversation, as AI is already all around us. To balance the benefits and risks of AI in education, Dr Kamalodeen emphasized the need for financial support to conduct small and large-scale research on AI and other technologies in teaching and learning at all levels. She also reiterated the need for expansive education of the population to increase the trust in AI, and of skills development to drive more people into tech-based careers and move from consumers to producers of AI and finally, the need for ethics education in AI and other emerging technologies. This should be accompanied by lobbying for data protection laws and regulations, including against algorithmic gender bias, to further develop the Data Protection Act of 2011 in Trinidad and Tobago.

As part of their computational thinking strategy, Mr Leandro Folgar, President of Plan Ceibal and Fundación Ceibal from Uruguay, presented the latest computational thinking manual for children between the ages of 8 and 10 with a chapter dedicated to AI.

The panel was followed by a Q&A session between various members of the audience and the panelists.

To conclude the event, Mr Valtencir Mendes went back to the importance of leveraging technological innovations such as AI to avoid the “generational catastrophe” mentioned by the UN Secretary General following the pandemic and the critical role of instruments such as this UNESCO publication to overcome the challenges faced by countries in the digital transformation of education.

In fact, it is important to note that “Digital Learning and Transformation” is one of the five Action Tracks of the Transforming Education Summit to be convened in September 2022 by the UN Secretary-General.

UNESCO currently supports more than 60 Member States in developing national policies on digital learning through various modalities of capacity development. “AI and education: guidance for policy-makers” is an integral part of UNESCO’s portfolio for supporting digital learning policies which include other recent guidelines on policy planning, including The Guidelines on the Development of Open Educational Resources Policies and The Guidelines for ICT in education policies and masterplans.

This launch event inscribes itself as part of a series of launch events for each language version of the UNESCO publication.

The Arabic version of the publication was launched in March with the Regional Centre for Educational Planning, the Minister of Education of the United Arab Emirates and representatives from the Gulf region. It was attended by nearly 500 participants. The French version will be launched in June in partnership with the Institute of the Francophonie for Education and Training (IFEF) through its KIX Africa 21 knowledge hub.