Why GPT will never replace ‘PHG’

Irreplaceable: While GPT has the ability to answer any question intelligently, it cannot replace what makes us uniquely human. - MUHAMAD SHAHRIL ROSLI/The Star

ChatGPT, or Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer, has been the talk of the town globally among artificial intelligence (AI) specialists, educators, corporate leaders and students.

Developed by OpenAI and launched in November last year, this AI chatbot is set to redefine how we use technology for a variety of reasons beyond its use in education.

It helps us to p lan trips, write emails, and even offer horoscope details and predict our future.

In the context of education, ChatGPT is arguably a dream come true for both students and academics alike, given its ability to solve complex problems quickly based on conversations between humans and machines.

Will this tool redefine the education landscape? Should education institutions scramble, drop everything we have been doing thus far and focus our energies on the possible disruptive nature of this tool?

While the GPT has a messiah-like ability to answer any question intelligently, it cannot replace what makes us uniquely human, namely, the ability to shape a positive mind and attitude, embedded with values such as love, peace, right conduct, and truth.

This is where, education institutions and educators alike must continue playing our role. In this regard, I would like to quote my wife and senior vice president of a government agency, Dr Sumitra Nair who, in delivering her alumni address at a convocation event recently, said: “Graduates should apply the PHG principle: purpose (P), health and well-being (H), and gratitude (G).”

This is where a focus on PHG, rather than GPT, may make more sense in the long run.

P for purpose

Beyond doubt, the purpose of higher education is to allow for personal development from a skills and competency perspective, which is critical to foster economic growth and social well-being.

At the core of this statement are the words “skills” and “development”. Higher education institutions (HEIs) should take a step back and reflect on the nature of the programmes and courses they are offering.

Are these relevant to industry? Are they geared towards making sure graduates are employable? Are the institutions reflecting on trends and changes from an industry perspective?

The purpose, from an institution’s standpoint, should be to make sure that it is producing readily employable graduates.

After all, this is also the purpose of parents sending children to such institutions – they hope that their children will be equipped with knowledge and skills to lead successful lives.

Institutions that are producing a significant number of graduates who are not readily employable should take a step back to ask themselves a fundamental question: what is our purpose of existence?

On an individual level, students and graduates should constantly ask themselves: what is our purpose in life? What do we aspire to be and, in turn, inspire others to do along the way?

Once this purpose has been identified, goals and plans can be made as a form of commitment on a personal level.

Institutions and educators that assist students in discovering their purpose, in addition to making sure graduates are employable, are admirable indeed.

H for health and well-being

We live in a world that is increasingly connected – work and chores are automated, and assignments AI- and search engine-guided.

We could argue that modern-day living should be simpler given the support we have from various forms of technology.

Yet, in a recent study by Rakuten Insight in Malaysia, 59% of respondents aged between 16 and 24 claimed to have experienced a higher level of stress and anxiety over the last year or so.

Is society giving too much emphasis on educational outcomes, and keeping things like physical and mental health on the sidelines?

Here is where HEIs must play a vital role in producing balanced graduates. Academic results should be balanced with the need to shape students and graduates who are strong emotionally, physically and mentally, and equipped with the ability to think critically.

Initiatives such as coaching, mentoring, and expert dialogue sessions regarding the importance of our overall well-being can be driven by HEIs.

Courses such as growth mindset, and design and digital thinking, if delivered well, can guide us towards this goal.

The World Economic Forum’s “top 15 skills for 2025” report gives prominence to emotional intelligence, social influence, the art of negotiation, and problem-solving.

To achieve these skills, institutions should ensure that programmes address the second principle: health and well-being (H). No doubt that there are efforts in this regard but a timely institutional introspection of the outcomes of such programmes is a must.

Graduates who are well-balanced physically, emotionally and mentally, and who possess the required skills are crucial to long-term sustainable socioeconomic aspirations.

G for gratitude

Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU) president Dr Hari Narayanan P. Ondiveeran, in his congratulatory speech to our graduates at the recently concluded graduation ceremony, reminded us of an interesting point.

He said, “If you gave each letter in the English alphabet a point from 1 to 26, the word ‘attitude’ will earn 100 points”. It’s a timely reminder indeed.

Each time I speak to employers and industry leaders, and ask them what they are looking for in graduates, most often, the reply is, “A positive attitude.” With the right attitude, they say, employees can be nurtured to do more, and learn new skills and competencies required.

Attitude relates to Dr Sumitra’s third principle: gratitude, which relates to the attitude of how one perceives the world.

People with a positive attitude are often thankful for what they have. They view the glass as half full, rather than half empty.

A positive attitude to living with lead us towards a higher altitude in life.

People with gratitude view the world with optimism, are more compassionate and kinder, and are generally more empathetic. They have a growth mindset.

In this regard, educators and institutions alike can and must play a vital role in cultivating gratitude among students.

In sum, while ChatGPT and all future technologies will continue to play a remarkable role in our lives, we cannot undermine the value of PHG.

A purposeful, well-balanced attitude driven by gratitude will surely propel our graduates to greater heights.

Prof Dr Murali Raman is the deputy vice-chancellor (Academic Development & Strategy) overseeing postgraduate and continuous education at Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU). Focused on executive training and consultancy, his niche training areas include design thinking, coloured brain communication and emotional drivers, digital economy, crafting digital strategies, and mindset change.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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