UNESCO survey: Less than 10% of schools and universities have formal guidance on AI

A new UNESCO global survey of over 450 schools and universities found that fewer than 10% have developed institutional policies and/or formal guidance concerning the use of generative AI applications.

The survey was prepared for the Ministerial Roundtable on Generative AI and Education, organized by UNESCO on 25 May 2023., organisée par l?UNESCO le 25 mai 2023.

The result illustrates the uncertainties in responding to the sudden emergence of newly powerful generative AI applications that can produce human-like output, including summaries, essays, letters, computer programs, art, and more. The technology is also currently capable of scoring top marks on major standardized tests, including university entrance examinations and assessments to credential professionals, including doctors and lawyers.

The vacuum of guidance shows that education systems are working to catch up with the new technology.

Policies governing the educational use and misuse of novel digital technologies often take shape at the institutional level before being inscribed at higher district, state, and/or national levels. The few institutional-level policies surfaced by the UNESCO survey indicates that education systems are still finding their balance and deliberating their responses. More system-wide policies – applying to large numbers of schools and universities in national and sub-national contexts – will likely take considerably more time to formulate and coalesce.

“The survey results show that we are still very much in the wilderness when it comes to newly powerful generative AI and education,” said Sobhi Tawil, the UNESCO Director for the Future of Learning and Innovation. “Institutions are not yet providing guidance or direction.”

Fastest spreading digital application of all time

While schools and universities appear to be taking their time to make recommendations and lay down rules, students and teachers are not waiting. ChatGPT is estimated to have over 100 million users globally and is, by many measures, the fastest spreading digital application of all time, surpassing the vertiginous growth of social media applications, such as Instagram, Snapchat and others.

“Without institutional guidance of any sort, these technologies are likely to get welded into education systems in unplanned ways with uncertain implications and possible unintended consequences. Ideally, there will be serious reflection about their place and role, and then action to realize this vision. We cannot simply ignore the short- and medium-term implications of these technologies for safety, knowledge diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Mr. Tawil.

UNESCO has been advising schools and universities to be proactive about providing guidance, and helping learners and teachers better understand these technologies and the implications of their use.

“Educational institutions need an agile and iterative approach, or they will forever be trying to catch up with the relentless pace of technological innovation,” said Mr. Tawil.

More universities than schools have guidance

Of the educational institutions that reported having a policy, approximately one half said the institution provides ‘pointed guidance’, meaning the institution has clear rules and advice regarding the educational uses of generative AI applications. The other half reported that the institution gives ‘discretion to users’, meaning the institution has largely left it up to individual departments, classes, and teachers to decide whether and how to use generative AI applications.

Of the hundreds of institutions that participated in the survey, only two indicated that they had policies or guidance that constitute ‘a ban’ through which the institution completely or largely prohibits the use of generative AI application such as ChatGPT.

The fact that some 40% of the educational institutions that reported having guidance, said the guidance was not written and had only been communicated orally further illustrates the ad-hoc nature of policy responses in education.

Universities were significantly more likely to have institutional policies or guidance than schools. Approximately 13% of the universities reported having some sort of guidance, while only 7% of schools did.

It is also telling that close to 20% of survey respondents reported that they were unsure whether or not their respective institution had policies or guidance concerning generative AI. This significant share reflects the uncertainty and regulatory void currently surrounding these new technologies.

UNESCO’s guidance on AI and education

Over the past few years, UNESCO has been working to help educational institutions and countries steer the educational use of AI in humanistic directions that prioritize inclusion, equity, diversity, and quality. The 2021 UNESCO Recommendation on the Ethics of AI provides general principles to anchor sector- and country-specific rules and regulations. The 2019 Beijing Consensus on AI and Education and 2019 I’d Blush if I Could publication deal with some of the unique educational and cultural implications of AI technologies, including conversational chatbots. Additionally, the 2021 publication AI and Education: Guidance for Policy-Makers offers pointed policy advice.

About the survey

The survey was conducted among the global UNESCO networks of Associated Schools and university Chairs from 4 to 19 May 2023. Slightly over 450 institutions responded (11% from Africa, 5% from the Arab States, 23% from Asia and the Pacific, 44% from Europe and North America, and 17% from Latin America and the Caribbean).