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.