Society

Making Space In The Classroom For Artificial Intelligence

Workers of Rome funeral parlors protesting against the situation in Roman cemeteries, April 2021, Italy.
Nothing "artificial" about AI
Xavier Darcos and Guillaume Leboucher

-OpEd-

PARIS We live in a society that changes rapidly, and we wish for schools that reassure us. Schools that are forward-looking, perhaps. Even our schools in the Third Republic that we refer to so often were anything but retrograde. On the contrary! The school believed in the ability of its Black Hussars — school teachers in the early 20th century, dubbed so because of their long black coats — to not only raise national spirits of their pupils, but also to give their students the skills for their times and instruments for the future. It would be difficult to pretend that the novels by Jules Verne that accompanied this period breathe skepticism and contempt for scientific and technological progress!

Now, we also hear much about reforming our Republic. We can only do so by embracing new knowledge and understanding. Among these elements, the most important one carries an ambiguous name: Artificial Intelligence (AI), which has an adjective that can frighten us.​

While we wait for a better name to come up, AI remains, and we have to take advantage of it. AI fascinates and scares us at the same time because we know that it has the ability to affect our ways of living, working, consuming and learning.

Make the science of our times intelligible for our students.

It's exactly for this reason that we must do exactly what the Black Hussars did: Take the science of our times to make it intelligible for our students. Our answer to all major challenges created by major changes in the past (agricultural revolution, industrial revolution, the invention of electricity, etc) has always been, in principle, simple: education.

But the changes created by AI are so rapid that our educational system and programs have not yet adjusted to absorb the kinds of transformation that AI will bring.

It's why, at the time when the law to ‘bring trust back into schools' was being discussed in parliament, we called for AI to be put at the service of students and teachers in schools.

5th grade pupil using a smartboard — Photo: ​Daniel Reinhardt/ZUMA

AI benefits teachers significantly by automating the teaching of the most basic lessons and thus alleviating some of the most tedious aspects of their job. It is also useful for students because it allows to better adapt the contents and process of learning to their needs.

Should we teach AI? At our foundation, "AI for School," we believe that artificial intelligence and computer programing must be taught and learned like French, maths or foreign languages.

Prepare the citizens of tomorrow in a world that will be theirs.

Make no mistake: The goal of teaching AI or coding is not to make our children become programmers or coders, just like teaching electricity in the old days was not to make all of our kids electricians or engineers. It is to prepare the citizens of tomorrow in a world that will be theirs and will, as we know, integrate AI in everyday life.

To achieve this mission, schools must facilitate collective action, like they have already done in multiple domains. It therefore seems urgent to introduce pedagogical innovation involving all the actors involved in AI and national Education, the expertise of engineers, local communities, businesses... It is important to promote the emergence of local educational ecosystems and paying special attention to priority areas. Using AI is also, very simply, a means to better teaching and learning. And it is only when we put ourselves ahead of the challenges of tomorrow that we will become the true heirs of our founding fathers.


Xavier Darcos is the chancellor of the Institute of France and President of the Foundation AI for School. Guillaume Leboucher is an entrepreneur and founder of the association AI for School.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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