Is AI turning my child into a zombie? Experts explain the pros and cons of ChatGPT in learning

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The fourth industrial revolutiion (4IR) is here. How it will prepare our kids for a more automated future depends on equal digital access for all kids.
The fourth industrial revolutiion (4IR) is here. How it will prepare our kids for a more automated future depends on equal digital access for all kids.
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The jobs that many of us as millennials and Gen Z are doing are beyond our ancestors’ imagination.

In fact, many of our parents probably have no idea what we do for a living unless you’re an accountant, teacher, doctor, nurse or engineer.

And with the rate at which technology is advancing, we also may very well experience the same confusion when our children explain what they do for a living one day.

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The innovation is not happening in the working world only, but in classrooms too. From the slate to the chalkboard to white boards and iPads, the education field is striviing to stay abreast of technology in order to ensure that children are at ease with the latest innovations. 

Yet Covid-19 revealed the fault lines when it comes to learning and digital access, quite starkly, as kids living in homes with WiFi, computers and smart devices could almost seamlessly continue learning online while many township and rural scholars were left behind.

But if you’re a parent who is lucky enough to be able to enrol your children in schools that use cutting-edge technology to teach, you may be wondering what all this talk of artificial intelligence (AI) and ChatGPT is about and whether it is altogether good for your child’s ability to learn.


You know when we watch sci-fi movies about the future or when we talk about robots taking over our lives when they start to become more intelligent than humans? Well, in a nutshell, that is sort of what artificial intelligence is.

“It is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs,” one of the founders of the discipline of artificial intelligence, John McCarthy said in a 2004 paper. “It is related to the similar task of using computers to understand human intelligence, but AI does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable.”


A form of AI, ChatGPT is a chatbot that in its latest iteration, GPT-4, can “simplify coding, rapidly create a website from a simple sketch and pass exams with high marks”, CNN reports. It’s the kind of scale at which this type of AI system is used that makes many worry that the robots are indeed taking over.

What incentive is there to read widely and meticulously in preparation for an assignment if ChatGPT can do this for you?

What’s the use of learning coding if ChatGPT can write the most perfect code to create a website from scratch for you?

How can you be sure the distinctions your kids are racking up for online exams aren’t simply the result of answers fed into the AI system by your tech-savvy kids?

These are just some of the questions concerned parents are asking as economists such as Goldman Sachs warn that, globally, as many as 300 million full-time jobs could become automated as a result of the new wave of artificial intelligence that has birthed platforms like ChatGPT.


“Schools are resilient,” Colin Northmore, Principal of Evolve Online School, a brand of ADvTECH, reassures Drum readers.

“They have mostly, until now, managed to avoid changing or assimilating disruptive technologies and rather tame them so that they do not fundamentally change students’ daily experience. iPads get turned into glorified textbooks, and coding becomes a marketing strategy. We tell children to use Google to look up the most basic facts, and it becomes the new encyclopedia.” 

AI presents a new opportunity, the headmaster says.

“AI can be a powerful tool for enhancing learning in school classrooms, providing personalised support and feedback, and creating engaging and interactive learning experiences when used in conjunction with traditional teaching methods rather than as a replacement for them.”

Here are Colin’s tips to make sure that AI is complementary rather than a replacement for a child’s natural way of learning.

  • Make sure they are using it merely as a prompt when researching and writing

ChatGPT shouldn’t do the writing for them. What it should do is help students with essay writing by providing prompts, feedback on structure and grammar, and even suggesting sources for research.

  • Interactive learning

No matter how small the class, a teacher can only spend so much time with each pupil. This is where AI can play a support role. A teacher could create a chatbot that asks students questions and provides feedback based on their responses. This could be used as a form of formative assessment to help students identify areas where they need more practice.

  • Learning how to evaluate the credibility of sources

AI can help students conduct research by suggesting sources, answering questions, and providing guidance on how to evaluate the credibility of sources.

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While the possibilities are endless for the ways that AI can make us ultimately work and study smarter, the South African reality still remains, however.

“Grade 4s are taught in the prescribed curriculum that machines are tools to make work easier for humans. There is nothing easy about accessing and using AI innovation without a few 21st Century basics: electricity, connectivity and hardware,” Bellavista School principal Allison Scott warns.

“Add a devastating inability to read for understanding in any language in 82% of South African children in Grade 4, and it is safe to say that entering the fourth and evolving fifth industrial revolution is but an elusive pipe-dream,” she writes in an opinion piece published last week.

The best hope for not leaving any child behind as we embrace AI?

Public-private school partnerships, the educator concludes.

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