“Fun” and “different” – Václav Havel AI aims to help Czech schoolchildren learn about civics

Václav Havel is coming to Czech schools. Well, not exactly, but an AI version of him is to be introduced into the civic education curriculum of several Czech secondary schools from January of next year with the aim of educating children about topics such as freedom, democracy and human rights. To find out more about the project I spoke to Alena Resl from the Czech office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, one of the organisations behind the project, and began by asking her what exactly DigiHavel is?

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“DigiHavel is a modern deductive tool for civic education teachers. It’s actually an application based on artificial intelligence. You can imagine it as a digital human whose ideas were inspired by the first president of Czechia, Václav Havel. It is actually the first time that a digital human as a technology will be used in the Czech school system.

“It is not a clone of Václav Havel, because AI is not yet able to do that, but this digital human was programmed in a way that represents the ideas of Václav Havel about democracy, human rights and totalitarianism.

“Aside from this application, we have prepared nine different activities for classes which are based on the modern didactic approach. By this I mean competence based learning instead of pure knowledge based learning.

“DigiHavel plays different roles during these activities. He is for example a democracy expert to the teacher, an adviser to pupils during a pro/contra discussion, or even a celebrity that is interviewed by the pupils. It is also important to mention that the application is available to school teachers for free.”

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The application is being tested now. Could you tell me a bit about how this testing phase is going and what exactly is going to happen from January next year, when DigiHavel is supposed to be partly implemented in secondary-level education?

“We chose various schools across Czechia to test DigiHavel out. Two of the most frequently used words from the evaluation were that it was “different” and that it was “fun”. This is because our activities are designed in a way in which they really engage pupils and make them creators.

“It is a very different way of teaching than the one that is normally used in the Czech school system, which is still very much based around memorising facts. This is not very useful in the 21st century because, aside from knowledge, people also really need to develop different skills.

“We think that a responsible citizen should not only know, but should also be able to work with information. They should be able to fact check, work with details, see the big picture, think critically, make up their own opinion and act accordingly. What we are bringing into the Czech school system through DigiHavel is this method of competence based teaching.

“Starting from January, we are going to open DigiHavel to more schools. Step by step, we hope to make the application accessible to all schools who show interest in the project.”

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Just so we can get an idea – how many schools have been using DigiHavel so far?

“Right now, it is very dependent on the budget because, as you can imagine, using artificial intelligence is still very expensive nowadays and we are also still in the testing process. This is why we are doing it step by step, opening to new schools while also trying to find new financial partners who would make it possible for us to expand.

“There are about 4,000 schools in the Czech school for which DigiHavel’s design is fitting. If we get a major financial partner we could hopefully make it available for all of these schools.”