Banning ChatGPT in Schools? We have seen this before - Ask the Calculator

In New York City, students and teachers are facing restrictions on accessing ChatGPT, and this trend is spreading to other school districts and universities as the new school year approaches.

This is the first full school year to start with ChatGPT and the expanse of AI tools. And rather than utilizing modern innovations to improve the lives of students and teachers, department officials have taken the drastic stance of immediately banning it.

This is primarily driven by the fear of disrupting the status quo rather than embracing the potential of these modern innovations to improve learning experiences.

NYC Education Department spokesperson Jenna Lyle justified the restrictions, citing concerns about negative impacts on student learning and the safety and accuracy of the content. 

The argument revolves around the belief that ChatGPT, while offering quick answers, fails to foster critical thinking and problem-solving skills crucial for academic and lifelong success.

Google Trends: ChatGPT Search Term Interest

Due to concerns about negative impacts on student learning, and concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of content, access to ChatGPT is restricted on New York City Public Schools’ networks and devices,” said education department spokesperson Jenna Lyle.

While the tool may be able to provide quick and easy answers to questions, it does not build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for academic and lifelong success.”

Sounds reasonable, sure. But this sentiment is not new. 

Calculators, too, faced similar controversies in the past.

In 1988, math teachers protested against the use of calculators in elementary school, fearing it would hinder students' understanding of mathematical concepts.

Elementary school teachers picket against use of calculators in grade school. The teachers feel if students use calculators too early, they won’t learn math concepts.

And this was a decade after the National Advisory Committee on Mathematical Education (NACOME) recommended granting access to calculators for eighth graders and above. Five years later, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) recommended that “mathematics programs [should] take full advantage of calculators … at all grade levels.

Throughout the years, the calculator debate persisted, but the world witnessed the benefits of embracing this technological tool.

Yet, there were still pockets of resistance. In 1997, California's Board of Education prohibited calculators from statewide assessments.

And at the end of the day, who does this hurt?

The students.

While some may advocate for learning things "the old way," it is undeniable that students who learned to use calculators in the past 50 years have benefited from this skill in various aspects of life.

"Findings from a Vanderbilt University study show that students with a basic knowledge of their math facts benefited more from the use of a calculator than those without the knowledge(“Calculators OK in Math,” 2008)." - source

As we approach a new era with AI tools like ChatGPT, it is essential to remember the lessons from the calculator debate. Embracing innovation and adapting to modern educational tools can lead to more empowered and capable students, ready to face the challenges of the future. 

Fear should not impede progress, but rather, a balanced approach should be taken to integrate technology responsibly, ensuring that students gain the best of both worlds.

So what should we do then?’

Before hastily deciding to ban innovative technologies, it is crucial to consider how they can positively impact our students and teachers

The current state of education in the U.S., with the country ranking 14th globally in the percentage of 25-34 year-olds with higher education (42%) and teachers dedicating extensive hours to teaching, calls for proactive measures to improve the system.

While AI alone cannot solve all these challenges, it presents an opportunity for positive change. 

At the Future of Education Technology Conference, Texas math teacher Heather Brantley shared her experience of using ChatGPT to enhance lessons and bring real-world examples to students, breaking away from dated textbook content.

I’m using ChatGPT to enhance all my lessons… Take any lesson you’re doing and say, ‘Give me a real-world example,’ and you’ll get examples from today — not 20 years ago when the textbooks we’re using were written.

At MapDeduce, we have surpassed over 30,000 users, and a significant percentage of our users are students from countries like the United States, United Kingdom, and Nigeria. 

Everyday, hundreds of pages of educational materials are processed and students let use know how much this new technology helps them succeed.

By embracing AI in education, we can empower our students with innovative tools and open up new avenues for learning and understanding. ‘

Rather than fearing change, let us embrace it with a balanced approach, leveraging technology to foster critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and real-world relevance in education. Together, we can pave the way for a brighter and more promising future for our students and educators alike.

CJ Ezinne