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AI & the future of education: Why it’s time to tap into our unique human advantage

18 June 2018: posted by BigChange

(From left to right: Essie North (MD, Big Change), Sir Anthony Seldon (Vice-Chancellor, University of Buckingham), Priya Lakhani (CEO, Century Tech), Alexander Fefegha (Head of Creative Technology, Comuzi), and Sherry Coutu CBE (Chair, Founders4Schools).

We currently use humans to teach humans how to be machines.We need to use humans to teach humans to be human. The power is in our hands.

(Sir Anthony Seldon)

One of the hottest topics anywhere right now is AI and the debate around the positive or negative impact the technology could have on our lives and society. The profile of this fast developing technology was reflected in the popularity of this week’s CogX conference. Almost 6,000 people attended the two-day event in London to hear more about its extraordinary potential.

A tipping point?

Big Change hosted an important panel debate on the urgent need for a more human education in an AI future. The panel explored the premise that for humans to succeed in the AI-powered future, we need to double down on our humanity.

Technical skills will no doubt remain important in the future of work, but as AI allows us to automate repetitive tasks across many industries, these will in many cases take a back seat to soft skills. Communication, emotional intelligence, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and cognitive flexibility will become (and are already) the most sought-after abilities. To prepare for that future, we need to emphasise higher-order thinking and emotional skills. Education needs to catch up with a new definition of what makes us intelligent.

The session’s popularity, and the response to the ‘ethics track’ in general, were hopefully a sign of the tipping point discussed by the group. They hoped that we may now recognise just how much our education systems need to change to keep pace with a rapidly changing world so that young people and adults are prepared to thrive in work and life now and in the future. This was reinforced earlier in the day when the House of Lords presented its recommendations from its recently published Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence report:

All citizens should have the right to be educated to enable them to flourish mentally, emotionally and economically alongside artificial intelligence.

(Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, House of Lords)

The urgency

The panel believed that exam results rather than humans are the focus of the current education system. They felt that we are not sufficiently preparing young people to be able to adapt to the rapidly changing demands of work and life. There was frustration that we have talked about the future skills needed for some time in countries like the UK, but have seen little change to date.

We are still talking about the skills needed for children in the future. Yet curriculum has not changed…. We are producing generations of school leavers not prepared for digital employment. 

(Priya Lakhani, CEO, Century Tech)

Sherry Coutu said how worrying it was that ‘93% of business say they can’t hire people they need’ and that teachers are being put under more stress as they look to better support their students.

Sir Anthony Seldon, who voiced concerns about the rising mental health challenges facing young people, also argued that education needs to help us ‘use AI, not be used by it.’

Priya Lakhani called for tech companies to communicate in a straight forward away and break out of their bubble.  Alexander Fefegha backed this by arguing for the need to demystify the technology so that more diverse young talent can understand the opportunities and have a greater agency to contribute. And to also tackle at source any unconscious bias that could unwittingly make this even more challenging.

The response

Although AI and machine learning are challenging how we educate young people, they also give us tools that we can use to help improve learning. Century is shining a light on how the brain and individual children learn in order to help the 1m in children in underperforming schools in the UK today. Founders for Schools is an AI powered platform that supports teachers by allowing them to tap into work experience options and role models to give young people opportunities and inspiration.

Sir Anthony felt that a cure lies in using the technology ‘to bring out the individuality in young people.’ He believes we can shine a light on dormant intelligences – to love, dance, find meaning, and emotional intelligence. And teach a balanced curriculum in a way that develops critical thinking and digital skills throughout.

Alex argued for the need to tackle how we communicate so parents from all backgrounds can understand the simple benefits of new technologies and demand something better for their children.

It’s everybody’s business

The panel ended with a clear call to action. The belief that every single person matters and can contribute; that everyone can contribute to the debate and have a voice in the future of learning. Priya said that change will only happen through consumer demand.

The panel backed technology’s ability to change things for the better and give us a richer way of life, but that we also shared a responsibility to ensure its benefits reach all parts of society. It can support one of our most valuable assets – our teachers – and we can use it for good, rather than being used by it.

Check out the video of the session here!