SA public schools trial ‘safe’ AI-powered chatbot in nation first

South Australia has become the first state in the country to trial a generative artificial intelligence app with high school students to teach them about the safe use of the world-changing technology.

Students at eight public high schools will use the chatbot, which has been designed in partnership with Microsoft, over an eight-week period after being approved by the state Department of Education.

The app “shows students how to use AI to support their studies” but has extra in-built features to protect them from accessing inappropriate information, as well as improved privacy and security controls.

South Australia is the only state not to have banned the use of AI in schools in response to ChatGPT, with New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland moving to block the app at the start of the school year. Western Australia, which had initially done the same, lifted its ban in May.

Education minister Blair Boye (right) with students from Mitcham Girls High School. Image: Twitter

Education, Training and Skills minister Blair Boyer announced the eight-week trial on Wednesday to “ensure today’s students are best equipped for the modern workplace”, while “helping to safeguard their privacy and the security of the data”.

“AI will be part of our work and lives in the future, which means we have a responsibility to educate young people about its appropriate and effective use. If we don’t then we are doing them an incredible disservice,” he said.

“In South Australia, we have embraced the technology, rather than attempt to ignore it and ban it. That is why we have worked with Microsoft to develop a safe version for use in schools.

“This work puts South Australia on the cutting-edge of this technology, leading the way on both a global and national scale.”

The eight schools to trial the app are Ceduna Area School, Streaky Bay Area School, Adelaide Botanic High School, Adelaide High School, Mitcham Girls High School, Unley High School, Thebarton Senior College, Glenunga International High School.

The government plans to complement the trial of the app with guidance for both schools and parents around the use of AI in education, including information about “managing risks and additional resources”.

Department of Education chief executive, Professor Martin Westwell, added that the “output of AI tools is just a starting point”, with critical thinking and creativity still need by students and teachers.

“While this is a rapidly evolving space, we want to encourage the use of AI, with safeguards, as a tool for learning to ensure young people have exposure to, and experience with, emerging technologies,” he said.

“However, we expect the use of AI to continue to develop and as such we will continue to review our policies, practices and best advice to teachers and parents in this space.”

Microsoft A/NZ education director Tiffany Wright said the app was the “first generative AI chatbot specifically for use in schools and built from the ground up with student safety in mind”.

The trial comes before federal, state and territory education ministers are set to consider an “evidence-based, best practice framework to guide schools in harnessing AI tools to support teaching and learning”.

The framework was requested at the Education Ministers Meeting in February and a draft – which is currently being developed by a taskforce of experts – will be considered at the next meeting this month.

In May, the federal Parliament opened an inquiry into the risks and potential opportunities of generative AI tools in school and higher education, including OpenAI’s ChatGPT and GPT-4, Google’s Bard and Microsoft’s AI-powered Bing and Edge.

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