AI a beacon of advancement for Saudi's education sector

31 May 2024 4 min. read

Artificial Intelligence (AI) heralds great promise for Saudi Arabia’s education landscape – but what is now seen as a risk needs to be transformed into an opportunity by implementing coherent policy. This is according to report from Emkan, which explores the potential but also the challenges that need to be addressed.

The ethical use of AI in education is a topic of debate among educational and government leaders around the world. The popularity and ease of access of tools like ChatGPT and Gemini could result in issues like over-reliance, plagiarism, and a deficiency in critical thinking skills among students.

Past research shows that the best way to avoid issues with AI is by educating students about it and guiding them on appropriate use. Teachers play a pivotal role in this process and can empower students to make informed decisions, but solid policies and guidelines from above are also essential.

AI a beacon of advancement for Saudi's education sector

“In the ever-evolving landscape of education, the integration of AI stands as the beacon of transformative potential. As we navigate the complexities of preparing today’s learners for the challenges of tomorrow, AI emerges, promising innovative solutions to enhance K-12 education,” said Basma Bushnak, CEO of Emkan.

Saudi Arabia has a dedicated authority for investigating and regulating AI: the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA). This authority has helped to forward the many applications of AI in many different industries.

There is a lot of positive potential for AI in the educational sector. Among the many use cases for AI in education is the creation of intelligent tutoring systems and delivering personalized instruction to students. A main focus of educational AI tools is to offer students uniquely-tailored learning experiences.

Other interesting and unique use cases include things like AI tools that allow students to interview historical figures, or a language acquisition model that helps students learn a language.

On the other hand, of course, educational institutions around the world have been careful to restrict or outright prohibit some usage of AI that falls into the territory of cheating or plagiarism. Some universities have zero-tolerance policies in place for writing courses, while others teach students to benefit from AI tools in content creation and technical communications.

Overcoming challenges

“As we embark on this journey into the AI driven educational frontier, we must simultaneously navigate a landscape marked by challenges, ethical considerations, and the compulsion to ensure meaningful access for all, especially in consideration of the KSA local educational landscape,” said Bushnak.

Many universities (including some of the UK’s Russell Group schools) have put strict guidelines in place. These guidelines define the ethical use of AI in an academic setting and also cover how teachers should approach imparting AI literacy.

The Saudi educational system has this multitude of international examples to follow in setting their AI strategies. Emkan’s survey of Saudi students and school leaders showed that, indeed, Saudi institutions would greatly benefit from more clear AI guidelines.

Most respondents reported that they had only limited awareness of polices concerning AI in the area of education. A majority of students were unaware of their school’s AI-related policies, meaning they are unsure how they may legitimately use the tools, if they are allowed to use them at all.

Around half of polled educators said they were interested in establishing AI policies because they wanted to streamline the introduction of these new and innovative tools. Likewise, more than half of the school leaders want to implement policies that align with international norms.

The report from Emkan suggests that Saudi Arabia’s educational AI policies should focus on fostering AI literacy, hands-on AI experience for students, professional development for teachers, and further policy development and implementation.

“As KSA embarks on its AI-driven educational journey, a proactive and collaborative approach is essential,” said Bushnak.

The usage of AI in schools in the Middle East has already been a topic of some debate – especially in the context of a relative lack of guidelines. For example, a report from last year showed how large percentages of students and workers in the UAE were using AI, many without the awareness (or permission) of their employers or teachers.