Australian states block ChatGPT in schools even as critics say ban is futile

Education experts have largely called for ChatGPT and similar programs to be allowed in schools, saying that banning them was like banning Google or other technologies.

Jonathan Pearlman

Jonathan Pearlman

The Straits Times


Education experts have however largely called for ChatGPT and other such programs to be allowed in schools. PHOTO: AFP

January 27, 2023

SYDNEY – Schools and the education authorities in Australia are divided over how to deal with a new wave of artificial intelligence (AI) programs, which have been banned in several states despite educators backing them as valuable learning tools.

In the past week, Queensland and Tasmania have joined the most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), in banning access to ChatGPT in state schools over concerns that it could be used to cheat in assessments or homework.

ChatGPT, which was launched in November, is an application that allows users to generate text based on queries and instructions.

NSW said it had imposed a ban on the app and other similar software until educators were able to determine how to ensure students could constructively use them.

“This (ban) will be in place while we review how to safely and appropriately use this emerging technology in the classroom,” said the NSW Education Department’s acting deputy secretary Megan Kelly.

Tasmania’s government said it was restricting access to ChatGPT because the company behind the application, OpenAI, requires users to be at least 18 years old.

But other states such as Victoria, the second most populous state, have yet to impose a ban, saying they were still assessing the risks.

Meanwhile, some private schools – which are not subject to state bans – have opposed banning ChatGPT, saying teachers will be able to spot plagiarised work and the app could actually help teachers to set simple tasks such as quizzes and worksheets.

The head of St Andrew’s Cathedral School in Sydney, Dr Julie McGonigle, told The Sun-Herald newspaper that teachers are well-positioned to spot any attempts to cheat in take-home assignments.

“Hand-in tasks are first crafted in the classroom and submitted in draft form before final submission,” she said.

“If a final submission was quite different to the draft worked on in class, it would raise a red flag with the student’s teacher.”

Education experts have largely called for ChatGPT and other such programs to be allowed in schools, saying that banning them was like banning Google or other technologies and that AI software can help students to learn and to think creatively.

An expert on online learning, Dr Vitomir Kovanovic from the University of South Australia, said bans were “symbolic” but would not prevent students from accessing the app outside school. He likened the furore over ChatGPT to the concerns that arose when students first started using calculators, which led to unfounded fears that mathematics skills would deteriorate.

“Educators should really be focusing on ways to integrate this technology and make assessments in a way that this tool can be used as a support, to help students,” he told ABC News.

“They will use these tools in the workplace anyway… If you’re going to use the tool, try to use it for learning.”

Dr Kovanovic said teachers could adjust their teaching and assignment methods in ways that would render such tools largely useless. For instance, a teacher could require students to summarise a discussion that had taken place in the classroom.

Other experts expressed similar views, saying that educators should not try to ban ChatGPT but instead find ways to use it as a classroom tool.

Former school principal Adam Voigt, who now heads a firm that aims to help schools change their culture, said the response to ChatGPT had been “panicked” and excessive. He said the app poses a threat to take-home assessments, but this only showed that teachers should find new ways to test and challenge students.

ChatGPT will “fundamentally change the way we educate, and its first impost will be on the way we assess”, he wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald.

“As scary as it may sound, our schools should resist any urge to merely weather the ChatGPT storm and instead embrace its immense possibilities.”

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