AI in school: Tools are becoming popular faster than policies can be developed

Without clear guidelines around the use of AI in schools, Canadian high school and post-secondary students are caught in an ethical dilemma: use it and potentially cheat, or avoid it even as it gives classmates an advantage.

Generative AI includes digital tools like ChatGPT, Bard, DALL-E, Midjourney, and DeepMind that use prompts to generate ideas, research, art and writing.

More than half – 52 per cent – of students over 18 have used generative AI to complete their school work or pass an exam, despite 60 per cent feeling that it constitutes cheating according to a recent survey by business consulting firm KPMG.

KPMG surveyed more than 5,000 Canadians over 18 in May ahead of the 2023-24 school year and found that almost 90 per cent of all students who had used AI saw the quality of their schoolwork improve, while nearly 70 per cent said their grades improved. The survey did not attempt to distinguish between grade scores and other signs that the students were learning more or better understanding their course material through the use of AI.

Regardless, C.J. James, partner and national education practice leader at KPMG Canada, said the results show the tools are growing in popularity.

This means educators are facing a new dilemma: they need to quickly develop and communicate guiding principles around how the tools should be used, while also deciding where to draw the line between ethical and unethical use.

“The students are really looking to learn best practices around using gen AI,” James told in a phone interview on Wednesday, “and it’s an opportunity for educators and educational institutions just to do different things, maybe expand their curriculum by offering (AI) courses and talking about ethics.”

The students surveyed expressed both a desire to see generative AI tools given a legitimate place in school and fear of the prospect of being punished for using the tools.

Four out of five said they believe using generative AI tools will become a critical skill in the future, similarly to skills like coding, and 72 per cent want courses on how to use the tools more effectively.

Meanwhile, 57 per cent said they worry they will be caught using the tools and 63 per cent said they weren’t aware of any policies governing the use of AI at their school. Only 38 per cent said their school has implemented or plans to implement any disciplinary action for students who use AI.

In order to give students the opportunity to use AI ethically – without cheating, committing plagiarism or otherwise putting themselves at an unfair advantage over their peers – James said educational institutions need to develop responsible-use policies that consider fairness, accountability, privacy, security and reliability.

However, as schools test out different policies and methods of enforcement, she said some are floundering.

“Working with a bunch of universities across the country, there are some who have really left it up to individual educators to set expectations on the use of it,” she said. “Then there are other universities that work directly with their students to set their guidelines. There’s just different ways that universities are dealing with this and setting guidelines, so I would say that is definitely an area to look into.”

Only 36 per cent of students tell their teachers they’re using generative AI tools, and most don’t know what their school’s policies are or if there are any repercussions for using AI, according to the survey. Furthermore, while 75 per cent become more excited about AI’s potential the more they use it, 65 per cent say they are growing increasingly worried about what it is capable of.

“This survey has certainly confirmed to us that organizations and educational institutions really (should) have responsible frameworks,” James said, “so that they can set some good guidelines in place, and then the students also feel good about what they’re doing and what they can and cannot do.”


KPMG surveyed 5,140 Canadians aged 18 and up from May 17 to 29, 2023, using Sago’s Methodify online research platform to gauge the adoption and use of generative AI.

Included in the survey were 222 students attending university, college, vocational or high school educational institutions. Forty-six per cent of generative AI users are university students, 28 per cent are in college, 13 per cent are in high school, eight per cent are post-graduate or part-time students, and five per cent are in technical, trade or vocational school. 


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