Artificial intelligence guide for parents and children

By Jenny Coetzee and Angelica Ouya

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming an integral part of daily life globally, and children today will grow up in a world where AI-powered devices and applications are increasingly prevalent. 

This new tech, like many other machine learning and databases, has many benefits, it also poses dangers and it is essential for parents and teachers to help children navigate it, understand its potential risks, and reap its benefits. 

AI has the potential to revolutionise education in Kenya by improving learning outcomes, increasing access to education, and providing personalised learning experiences for students, as it is starting to do around the world.

Soon, with the help of AI-powered educational tools, teachers will be able to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses and customise their learning plans accordingly, which means that a tailored educational experience will be within the reach of more students than it currently is.

For the first time, a real concern exists that as students become increasingly reliant on AI, it will effectively disempower them in terms of using and developing their own brainpower. 

As the old adage of ‘use it or lose it’ goes; if our children are going to hand over all their thinking to AI, they may end up in a situation where they are no longer able to apply their own mind to their work and life decisions.

That is why, as AI is increasingly becoming more ubiquitous in people’s lives, it is essential for parents to help their children develop critical thinking skills and a healthy relationship with technology. 

While this might seem like a non-issue for many parents at the moment, reality is soon going to hit home if parents don’t firstly get a good understanding of this new tech for themselves, and then determine how to assist their children in navigating these uncharted waters. Here’s how parents and teachers can help students get to grips with AI:

Encourage children to explore and experiment with AI technologies, such as chatbots, voice assistants, or educational apps – with the necessary parental oversight. This provides an ideal opportunity for parent and child to discover the technology together, to understand how AI works, how it can be useful, and also the pitfalls involved.

Teach children to think critically about the information they receive from AI-powered sources, and to layer their own insight on top of the information produced. Help them understand (or learn together), how algorithms and machine learning work, and how they can be biased or flawed. Encourage them to question the information they receive and to seek multiple sources to verify it.

Encourage children to develop their own ideas and solutions instead of relying solely on AI. Let them use their creativity and imagination to come up with new ideas and approaches to problems.

Model healthy tech habits, such as setting limits on screen time and being present during family time. Encourage children to engage in non-tech activities such as reading, playing outdoors, or spending time with friends.

While it can be the easiest path of least resistance, encourage children not to turn towards AI as a first instance, all the time, and to see the value in brainstorming a task or challenge on their own before outsourcing their thinking.

Parents should also ensure their children understand that while AI has many benefits, it also poses some dangers related to privacy, bias, and accuracy.

It is important to recognise that AI-powered devices and applications collect vast amounts of data, which could be exploited by third parties. Additionally, algorithms can be biased, leading to unfair, inaccurate or discriminatory outcomes, and is open to manipulation, which is why it is essential that any information generated is verified from other sources.

As parents and educators, we play a vital role in helping the children in our care navigate this new world full of opportunity but also danger, by educating ourselves and helping them reap the benefits while minimising risk.  

Jenny Coetzee is Crawford International School Kenya managing director and Angelica Ouya, education director at the Makini Group of School,  brands of private education provider ADvTECH.

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