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ABC News
ABC News

ChatGPT banned in WA public schools in time for start of school year

An AI chatbot which can eloquently pump out essays, summaries, and short stories has been banned in Western Australia's public schools ahead of the start of the school year.

WA is the latest Australian jurisdiction to ban ChatGPT, following New South Wales, Queensland, and Tasmania.

WA Education Department Director General Lisa Rodgers told ABC Radio Perth the website would be blocked via a firewall.

"There's no doubt it's incredible technology ... and it could present exciting opportunities, but for us, we consider a lot of third-party applications ... in this case, I've asked for access to be blocked," she said.

"[The public school server] is a huge network, it does take a while, but it will all be done by Wednesday."

ChatGPT, or Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer, can produce a variety of written responses from songs and poems to computer code and exam responses.

While some industries are finding the technology helpful, the tool has left universities and schools across the world feeling anxious.

Some institutions and education departments are rewriting exam questions, updating plagiarism policies, or straight-out banning the tool — worried students could use it to cheat in exams and assignments.

Teachers on alert for home-use of tool

Ms Rodgers downplayed concerns students would still be able to access the tool at home.

She said teachers generally know their students well enough to spot cheating and plagiarism in homework.

"They know student's particular strengths and weaknesses," she said.

"In order to teach, we need to know what that student's mastered, what the gaps in their learning are and that fundamentally prompts the next teaching step."

She said students were assessed multiple times in a range of ways, including in-class assessments, homework, and informal discussion.

Technology to detect chatbot not on radar

Students who spoke to the ABC last week had a mixed view on ChatGPT, with some finding it helpful to understand a topic and get started on an assessment, while others were concerned the tool undermines integrity.

Ms Rodgers said the education department was not looking to deploy technology to detect work created by ChatGPT. 

"A lot of the work is done in class, and of course students won't be able to access ChatGPT," she said.

"SCASA — the School Curriculum Standard Authority — will be updating their guidelines in regards to the WA Certificate of Education and providing information on this type of generative AI technology," she said.

"But if it's a high-stakes assessment, we already have things in place that make sure those exams are invigilated, and they're taken under conditions that are quite strict and rigorous."

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