UNESCO has published the Beijing Consensus on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Education, the first ever document to offer guidance and recommendations on how best to harness AI technologies for achieving the Education 2030 Agenda. It was adopted during the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Education, held in Beijing from 16 – 18 May 2019, by over 50 government ministers, international representatives from over 105 Member States and almost 100 representatives from UN agencies, academic institutions, civil society and the private sector.
The Beijing Consensus comes after the Qingdao Declaration of 2015, in which UNESCO Member States committed to efficiently harness emerging technologies for the achievement of SDG 4.
Ms Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO, stated that ‘’we need to renew this commitment as we move towards an era in which artificial intelligence – a convergence of emerging technologies – is transforming every aspect of our lives (…) we need to steer this revolution in the right direction, to improve livelihoods, to reduce inequalities and promote a fair and inclusive globalization.’’
The Consensus affirms that the deployment of AI technologies in education should be purposed to enhance human capacities and to protect human rights for effective human-machine collaboration in life, learning and work, and for sustainable development.
The Consensus states that the systematic integration of AI in education has the potential to address some of the biggest challenges in education today, innovate teaching and learning practices, and ultimately accelerate the progress towards SDG 4.
In summary, the Beijing Consensus recommends governments and other stakeholders in UNESCO’s Member States to:
- Plan AI in education policies in response to the opportunities and challenges AI technologies bring, from a whole-government, multi-stakeholder, and inter-sectoral approach, that also allow for setting up local strategic priorities to achieve SDG 4 targets
- Support the development of new models enabled by AI technologies for delivering education and training where the benefits clearly outweigh the risks, and use AI tools to offer lifelong learning systems which enable personalized learning anytime, anywhere, for anyone
- Consider the use of relevant data where appropriate to drive the development of evidence-based policy planning
- Ensure AI technologies are used to empower teachers rather than replace them, and develop appropriate capacity-building programmes for teachers to work alongside AI systems
- Prepare the next generation of existing workforce with the values and skills for life and work most relevant in the AI era
- Promote equitable and inclusive use of AI irrespective of disability, social or economic status, ethnic or cultural background or geographical location, with a strong emphasis on gender equality, as well as ensure ethical, transparent and auditable uses of educational data
The Consensus also details its ambitions for UNESCO to act as a support system for the capacity building of education policy-makers to implement the recommended measures, and to act as a convener for financing, partnership and international cooperation together with other international organizations and partners active in the field of AI in education.
Suggested implementations for the Director-General of UNESCO include the establishment of an ‘AI for Education’ platform that would supply crucial resources for open consultation, such as open-source AI courses & tools, policies and best practices. Together with UNESCO Member States, the DG is encouraged to develop guidelines and further resources for effective and equitable use of AI in education.
The Consensus also recognizes the pressing issue of country and regional divides in AI development, and tasks partners and international organizations to monitor and assess the impact of these divides, keeping in mind the risk of polarization between those who have access to it and those who do not.
Together with partners, international organizations, and the key values that UNESCO holds as pillars of their mandate, UNESCO hopes to strengthen their leading role in AI in education.
As Ms Giannini has said; ‘’implementing AI in and for Education is about shifting from competition to cooperation. The Consensus adopted today will guide our actions.’’
If you want to leverage emerging technologies like AI to bolster the education sector, we look forward to partnering with you through financial, in-kind or technical advice contributions.
The Beijing Consensus is available in the six official languages of the UN.