From Media to Politics to Marketing, artificial intelligence (AI) has proved to be a real game changer and, in some ways, has impacted all of us. The ads we get bombarded with all the time, the YouTube recommendation page, Google and Apple assistants we find ourselves addicted to, have revolutionized our lives and our time-consuming habits up to an extent that we cannot imagine to even function without the immense help of these AI tools. The narrative around AI and its use is quite ambiguous and sometimes it leads people to believe in conspiracies that revolve around such a hot topic. People are more eager than ever to know all about AI and its potential benefits and harms. It is an established fact that AI is going to change the functioning of our entire planet but masses have a hard time agreeing on “how?”.

Many Computer Scientists and AI specialists have put forth their opinions to explain the future role of AI. Speaking to World Economic Forum, Stuart Russell (Computer Science Professor and AI expert), said that AI is just a technology, like all other tech gadgets and tools out there, it is not intrinsically “good” or “evil”, and the decision to make it anything lies with us, we can either use it well for the benefits of mankind or we can misuse it. But Stuart also acknowledges that poorly designed AI does pose risks and that’s why we must have strong regulatory bodies to keep them in check. He said that we have given a free pass for way too long and now the world is waking up to reality and is struggling to navigate through this mess. Stuart thinks that one day our jobs will be replaced by AI and though for time-being we will face some difficulties to fully adjust to this new reality, but in the long run AI can help us live wisely and agreeable life free from the struggle of existence and can help us live the rich, interesting and fulfilling lives.

But the question that we are more interested in probing, is “Will AI be able to solve the crises of illiteracy in third world countries like Pakistan, where literacy rate not more than 50%, and the children in rural areas can only dream to go to college and peruse higher education?”. There is a lot to unpack here, but before digging directly into the field of education, let us analyze the vison of Pakistan’s ruling elite toward country’s digitalization and AI is being used by other sectors to enhance the productivity.

Over the period of two decades, Pakistan have seen several campaigns to improve the current Digital Infrastructure in the country. From launching an online Citizen portal where citizens were able to register their complaints to the distribution of laptops among Students, the county did witness a revolution of tech but it was only confined to some urban centers. People in the peripheries of the country were largely oblivious to this new phenomenon. But even then, it was too little given the needs of the country. There is still the same old mind set in the bureaucracy of keeping large chunk of files in the government offices and the reluctance to use digital platforms for the well-being of the citizens. Pakistan has 64% of Youth Population and is producing one of the highest numbers of IT graduates, but these IT graduates often become tend to move abroad because those who are sitting in the government and are devising policies are “digitally illiterate” up to an extent that even after the direct orders from Islamabad High-court, advising the state machinery to bring Amazon and PayPal to Pakistan, govt is still unable to act upon it, and the people of Pakistan are still unable to fully exploit the advantages of Amazon services, forget about bringing Apple and Google. We have a lot to learn from India in this regard, it has one of fastest evolving and developing IT sectors and just about last year, right after the Pandemic was over, Apple started its local manufacturing in India giving a new rise to its economy and digital future. Amazon, Meta, Google, etc. all big tech giants have been locally operational in India and also, they have been monitoring their operations in South Asia from India given the size and hegemony of Indian Market. Pakistan, on the other hand is still struggling to convince Google and others to launch their operations in Pakistan but its still a long way to go.

Coming back to the topic of AI and how it can help us in the field of Education, the concept is not entirely new as some schools and colleges did opt for AI tools during the pandemic. One such School was “The City School Group”, that partnered with “Century” to help their students continues their studies without any disruption with the help of AI. 108 Schools, all belonging to the same group, and almost 28,000 got benefited through this initiative. According to the administration of the school, both Students and teachers were able to take the ownership of their learning through AI and were able to access any information they wanted without any time constraints and also teachers were able to prepare themselves more efficiently to explain the concepts with evidence and since the school have started using AI, its quality of education and learning has improved drastically and they were able to achieve better results. Through the help of AI, they were able to focus on what needs to be addressed and that helped the teachers in identifying the problems and also to take the necessary steps to resolve the issue. Teachers at The City School now think that if there is anyone out there who is not using AI for learning and teaching, he/she is doing s great disservice to the profession of teaching and to their students as well.

The City School partnering with Century to opt for AI tools is just one example, even if there were schools and colleges who were not considering or were not reluctant to take the initiative to use Technology to enhance the learning experience of their students, they had no choice but to opt for technology when after the Pandemic hit and the countrywide Lockdown was imposed but it can be argues that its just a story of the urban cities, what happens in the country’s rural areas, it’s a different question all together.

All things about The City School and its partnership with Century considered, it’s a fact their only exists for country’s elite and upper Middle Class. The rural Population of Pakistan, according to the last consensus, is 62.56% of the total population. The 28,000 students of The City School who were able to exploit the benefits of AI to improve their skills and learning experience, belong to a particular class and are in minority as comparted to hundreds of thousands other children who never sat foot in the school. And these are very alarming numbers. We can forget about AI revolutionizing the field of education if we are not ready to deploy proper means and methods to ensure that no child is out of the school and this should be done on emergency basis. And its about time, that we should stop making excuses about the lack of funds, the poor and unstable state of our economy etc. to build state of the art infrastructure. If we are to learn one lesson from the Pandemic, it was that we don not need lavish facilities to educate our children. All we need is some AI tools and teachers who are trained and equipped with modern day technology and can help students navigate through their academic journey. If one private school, with the help of AI startup can help 28,000 students, it sure proves that state, with much better resource and minds, can devise plans and policies to launch several such initiatives to educate children through AI tools (Century etc.).

No one is denying that Pakistan is going through a drastic economic crisis and surely is not able to allocate more resources or budgets on making new schools and colleges, but that’s where AI comes in and by opting for a digital solution, not only we can achieve our desired results, we can equipped our youth with skills that will make their financial condition much better and they can play a productive role in our economy, just like Stuart Argues that AI literally can help us achieve the freedom to live a fulfilling life but the more we delay, the more bad its going to be in the longer run.

Related: Scope of Artificial Intelligence (AI) education in Pakistan

Mohammad Saad
Author

The writer is an MPhil Scholar, perusing his Masters in Political Science from GCU, Lahore. He tweets @hafizsaadriaz

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