At Lakeside Primary School in Singapore, a trolley full of laptops is wheeled to the door of a fifth grade classroom where 30 or so students rush out to a hallway to retrieve them to learn mathematics using artificial intelligence.

A teacher wearing a headset tells the students to set their own goals for the lesson they will learn that day on devices they use for some hours of their lessons each week.

She writes on a whiteboard that the lesson will focus on "the conversion of measurements involving decimals" such as how 10 meters and 5 centimeters can be converted to 10.05 meters.

Cynthia Goh (R), Lakeside Primary School's head of mathematics, answers a question from a student who solves a problem by using artificial intelligence during a lesson on Nov. 9, 2023. (Kyodo)

Using their laptops, the students swiftly access an AI enabled "Adaptive Learning System" embedded in an online learning portal, developed by Singapore's Education Ministry for fifth and now sixth grade mathematics.

The ALS, introduced in June last year, enables the students to choose their own difficulty from three levels, while the AI generates questions based on previous learning data and other factors.

Lovelle Ng Bo Yee, one of the fifth graders at Lakeside school, was looking at the laptop screen guided by the ALS system on how to convert 0.062 m into 6.2 cm by multiplying by 100.

This is done visually with a small arrow on the screen pointing to how the decimal point in 0.062 m should shift two spaces to the right in order to get the answer of 6.2 cm.

Ng, 11, who opted to take on a challenge, said she likes using ALS as it motivates her to study math.

"When we get the question wrong, it will give us an easier question," she said, adding the system explains why an answer is wrong and how she can improve. "When I get it correct, it will give more challenging questions," she added.

Cynthia Goh, the school's mathematics head, said the students have the option to decide what they want to learn on a given day. They can make revisions, receive further guidance when uncertain, or take on a challenge, while the teacher observes the students and sometimes helps them.

The ALS collects data on each student's mastery of a new topic and compiles a report on their performance. Teachers benefit as they can save time on grading, get data on students' areas of weakness, enhance lesson content and provide more individualized instruction.

Students receive laptops for a mathematics lesson using artificial intelligence at Lakeside Primary School in Singapore on Nov. 9, 2023.(Kyodo)

"I value this system because it gives us (teachers) enough feedback and we can cater to individual need," said Goh, a veteran teacher with 23 years of experience.

Goh said, however, the students spend only part of their five hours per week of math lessons using the AI system, adding "It can't replace the teacher."

The use of AI in schools has become more and more widespread globally, but there are differences among countries in terms of readiness to embrace the technology.

In Asia, countries and regions such as South Korea, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan announced plans in recent years to incorporate AI in their education systems.

Singapore's Education Ministry adopted AI for the teaching of math in public primary schools nationwide last year after a two-year pilot project involving 33 schools. The ministry is expanding AI to other subjects such as English language.

Under a basic strategy promoting the use of AI technology in education, the ministry set a vision dubbed "Technology-transformed learning, to prepare students for a technology-transformed world."

Education is the key to survival for Singapore, a small country with no natural resources that depends on attracting foreign companies for growth.

The promotion of AI in education, one of five national AI projects unveiled in 2019, came also as the city-state has been ranked among the top in international tests of the Program for International Student Assessment conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The results of the triennial tests last year taken by 15-year-old students showed that Singapore led in mathematics, reading and science among 81 economies.

Yet the ministry has said "students of diverse learning needs, as well as low-progress learners, will be better supported" through AI and can raise their achievement level.

The Lakeside school's head of the Information and Communications Technology department, Chan Kok Hong, said teachers can adapt the ways they use AI while they teach based on the national curriculum. He is the IT educator for about 120 fellow teachers.

"The experience that the students here have in this school could be different from children from other schools," Chan said.

Advanced technologies which have captivated the world have at the same time raised concerns about their biased output and impact on privacy, copyright and other areas.

Singapore has taken the position that generative AI such as ChatGPT can be a useful tool to complement learning, and the ministry last year said it should be used only under the supervision of teachers. Some public schools have already adopted it.

Chan himself uses ChatGPT to create handouts to explain the concept of "an average" in math.

To give proper supervision and instruct students about the technologies, teachers must learn the technology.

"The definition of a teacher will have to change," Chan said. "It's about continual professional development. We have to keep up with the times."

Looi Chee Kit, research chair professor in the Education University of Hong Kong, said many AI technologies are "black boxes," referring to a fact that most people do not understand how they work.

As uncertainty has increased concerns about AI being biased, governments should develop guidelines and regulatory frameworks and consider ethical implications and other issues, taking cybersecurity measures to safeguard sensitive educational data, said Looi, also a professor emeritus at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

Singapore released a draft governance framework for generative AI in January by revising a 2020 AI framework, making proposals that ensure fair treatment in using potentially contentious data and enhancing transparency regarding safety. It is expected to establish the framework later this year.

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