ChatGPT underscores importance of traditional education

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Appeared in the Epoch Times, February 8, 2023
ChatGPT underscores importance of traditional education

By now, most teachers have heard about ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence program with an uncanny ability to write clear, coherent and compelling paragraphs about almost any topic under the sun.

Whether you need a 1000-word essay (with references!) summarizing the history of Canada, a 500-word article extolling the virtues of your favourite city, or a 50-word tweet (with hashtags!) wishing everyone a good day, ChatGPT will provide it. An article or essay that once took hours to write can now be produced within seconds.

Of course, this has significant implications for schools. While teachers have always had to be on the lookout for students gaming the system, ChatGPT makes it nearly impossible to catch cheaters. Not only can ChatGPT produce different answers to the same question, but it can also be told to write in a particular style or even incorporate factual errors in any answer it produces. Thus, proving that a student cheated on an assignment is going to become very difficult indeed.

Unsurprisingly, progressive educators are seizing on this program as proof that the time has come to move away from traditional schooling. To them, ChatGPT is proof positive that there’s little point in having a content-rich curriculum since students can find all the information they need on the Internet. Furthermore, they argue there’s no reason to have students write tests since memorization is now unnecessary.

Instead, progressive educators want schools to focus on generic skills. This is exemplified by the so-called 21st Century Skills movement. Instead of having students master specific content, they want teachers to focus on transferable skills such as creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. British Columbia already took a huge step in this direction when it released a new K-12 curriculum several years ago.

However, far from showing that practice and memorization are obsolete, ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence programs are proving that traditional education is more important than ever. While students might be able to cheat on their homework assignments, ChatGPT won’t be able to help students write tests, since students cannot use their phones or computers while writing them.

Subsequently, tests and exams will soon become the only time when teachers can know for certain that students are genuinely demonstrating what they’ve learned. So rather than getting rid of traditional tests, students should write them more frequently. Tests are the best way to assess students on the actual knowledge and skills acquired in a course.

It's also important for provincial standardized exams to make a comeback. Unfortunately, standardized testing has been on the decline in most provinces. Relentless advocacy from teacher unions has pressured provincial governments to reduce the number of standardized exams, decrease their percentage value, and place less emphasis on subject-specific knowledge. Clearly, things are heading in the wrong direction. To ensure that students are consistently assessed fairly and, it’s important to administer standardized exams in a variety of subject areas and grade levels.

Of course, one might wonder why it’s necessary for students to learn how to write essays at all since ChatGPT can write in seconds what it once took a person hours to write. However, just as the invention of calculators did not make addition, subtraction, multiplication or division obsolete, the advent of ChatGPT has not made learning how to write sentences and paragraphs obsolete.

Writing is much more than a means to an end. The process of writing helps us formulate our thoughts, think through our positions and respond to counterarguments. Typing a question into ChatGPT might generate a quick answer, but it will never replace the authenticity of a personally composed response.

ChatGPT has the potential to be a real timesaver when writing banal introductory remarks for a meeting, putting together a company promotional brochure or composing a generic tweet. However, it would be a huge mistake indeed for us to conclude that humans are no longer needed. Classic books such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings will always remain head and shoulders above anything composed by an AI program.

Technology is an impressive tool. But it remains just that—a tool. Let’s not push traditional education aside. It is, in fact, more important than ever.