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Inquiring and Reflecting: Artificial Intelligence and the Power of Human Intent

By Aberra B. Belayneh
Inquiring and Reflecting: Artificial Intelligence and the Power of Human Intent

At no other point in the field of education have we been so preoccupied with the future of Artificial Intelligence in Education (AIED) and so concerned. Many articles claim Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the potential panacea for our most pressing problems in education, health, and the environment. Other articles disagree with these claims. This further accelerated the age-old debate between the ‘‘tech optimists and pessimists.’’ However, this is not an article to add to what many consider the presumptuous assertion that the application of AI in education would be a “game changer” (Richardson & Clesham, 2021) or speculate about its possible negative impacts (Edwards & Cheok, 2018). Alternatively, this article attempts to make an unassuming contribution to the Artificial Intelligence in Education discourse— inquiring and reflecting on how discussions of AIED might include the fate of the unconnected/less connected in future conversations.

A series of questions come to mind:

  • Undoubtedly, the advent of new technologies has significantly improved our lives, but has it always served us all equally and fairly? Is AI any different?
  • How informed are suggestions made to embrace AI in education given the realities of the growing digital divide?
  • Does AI have its own will or is it rather driven by our input?
  • In thinking of questions of willpower, fairness, and potential amplification of bias and social inequality, can it / will it do what we couldn’t or didn’t want to?

These are complex questions to consider in any AI-related conversations.

Historically, the emergence of new technologies has been a double-edged sword. It has brought about unparalleled advancements and success in various fields and correspondingly widened the gap between the haves and have-nots-creating moral quandaries. Regarding that, critical voices of scholars such as Abeba Birhane and Benjamin Ruha convincingly reason that AI is no exception to this phenomenon and have raised concerns about how AI products are advancing. Although there is no agreed upon notion as to how to move forward, contrary to what sounds like a call for a ban on AI use, it is implied that the application of AIED is approached with caution and a critical eye. Their argument emphasizes the importance of initiating questions like:

  • What ends does it serve?
  • How inclusive is its design?
  • And how does it promote a more equitable society?

The extent to which AI can benefit students from different socioeconomic backgrounds is still debatable. Whilst there are plenty of narratives and often wistful evidence that the rapidly accelerating integration of AI is transforming our education system, little existing research adequately explains how it benefits the unconnected or less connected who risk being further left behind. It is, however, common to read claims such as “AI is reshaping the education system by empowering students, teachers, and institutions with advanced technologies and personalized learning experiences’’ (Mehta,2023). The problem with this claim is that it does not account for children and young people who come from the poorest households with no rudimentary equipment such as desktops, laptops, iPads, or mobile phones and connection let alone the dilapidated schools they attend, and as a consequence, fall even further behind their peers and left with little opportunity to catch up. For example, as indicated in the recent joint report by UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in which they call for ‘‘urgent investment to bridge a digital divide’’ that affects millions of children globally. ‘‘Two-thirds of the world’s school-age children – or 1.3 billion children aged 3 to 17 years old’’ as well as young people between the ages of 15-24 (759 million or 63 percent) do not have internet connection in their homes. What is more, teachers who have neither the skills nor training to access AI technology also fall victim to being left unaccounted for.

A further concern that merits attention is the design of AI for education. We are often told about the potential of AI in revolutionizing education. What is missing from such a narrative is, however, the human element. How inclusive is the AI training and design? As Kentaro Toyama, a computer scientist and author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology puts it, “Technology is merely a tool that multiplies human capacity in the direction of human intent.” While it can be exhilarating to be swept up by the idea of super intelligent AI, the most taxing problem remains the reliability of human intent which compels us to ask: Are the thinkers and inventors behind the creation of AI algorithms free from bias? Abeba Birhane, a cognitive scientist who deals with machine learning, algorithmic bias, and critical race studies, believes otherwise. She argues in stark opposition that ‘‘the common narrative that AI is a tool that promotes and enhances human ‘prosperity’” is misleading.

It is, therefore, crucially important (not only for those working in education but also concerned parents who do not take their opportunity for granted but question how technology is impacting millions of children worldwide, policymakers at different levels who care and want to base their decisions on inclusive evidence, and most importantly tech designers whose work affects many lives) that future conversations around embracing AI in education acknowledge the ‘‘digital divide’’ and move beyond the notion of AI as a “magical and superhuman” entity and calls for an informed inclusive design that will serve humanity equally and not the other way around. Also, it is vital to inspire students to partake in projects that address global issues of a social and economic nature. Their proactive voice contributes to the design of a more just and inclusive technology in education.

Finally, to realize the potential of AI to address most of the biggest challenges we face in education worldwide today, it is necessary to ensure that AI is cautiously designed with the intent of serving all, and not just a select few. To do that, it is critical to guarantee that future discussions and decision-making around AI and education are not simply dominated and led by the already privileged but also enriched and diversified by the inputs from those who speak for the voiceless who are presently excluded.



Benjamin, Ruha. Race after Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. Polity, 2019.

Birhane, Abeba [@Abebab]. “Let’s ditch the common narrative that ‘AI is a tool that promotes and enhances human […]’” Twitter, 17 May 2022, 3:27 p.m.,

Birhane, Abeba and Olivia Guest. “Towards Decolonising Computational Sciences.”, 29 Sep. 2020,

Edwards, Bosede I., and Adrian D. Cheok. “Why Not Robot Teachers? Artificial Intelligence for Addressing Teacher Shortage.” Applied Artificial Intelligence, vol. 32, no. 4, 2018, pp. 345-360. doi: .

Mehta, Rohit.  “Embracing the Power of AI: Transforming Our Education System.” Times of India. July 1, 2023 ,

Richardson, Mary, and Rose Clesham. “Rise of the machines? The evolving role of AI technologies in high-stakes assessment.” London Review of Education, vol. 19, no. 1, 2021, pp. 1-13. Web of Science, doi:10.14324/LRE.19.1.10.

Toyama, Kentaro. Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology. PublicAffairs, 2015.

UNICEF and International Telecommunication Union. “How Many Children and Youth Have Internet Access at Home?” UNICEF, 1 Dec. 2020.

Aberra B. Belayneh is a former International Baccalaureate (IB) international school teacher and leader currently residing and working in Germany. Aberra has his Bachelor of Arts in language and literature from Addis Ababa University and a master’s degree in applied educational leadership and management from the University of London.

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