Authored by Dirk Van Damme, Head of the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, the report begins by mentioning the collapse of the financial system in 2008, the pandemic, and climate change. It also states that the most disruptive change in the 21st century will be AI.
Mr. Van Damme writes that the world is starting to discover the promises of AI-driven learning management tools and adaptive courseware while our classrooms are slowly turning into smart learning platforms.
One point that Mr. Van Damme emphasizes is that “It makes no sense to design education systems that educate learners to do what computers and robots can do infinitely better.” What students will need to learn at school will be informed by what makes humans truly human.
Our ingenuity, according to Mr. Van Damme, “is not a magical trick but results from the interaction between complex cognitive processing of prior knowledge, well-developed character qualities, and sophisticated values.” AI will contribute to our ingenuity by overcoming the barriers of processing information so that our human cognitive and non-cognitive processes can become stronger. As a result, the added human value becomes more effective.
Contemporary schooling has ignored much of the social-emotional domain in its coursework. Mr. Van Damme writes that this domain must receive more attention in the AI-enhanced world. Nurses, for instance, are an excellent example of a profession where the social-emotional skills that contribute to a patient’s recovery are difficult to train a robot to do.
The same need for social-emotional skills is true in education. When schools closed physically due to the pandemic, the physical and emotional presence of the teacher diminished substantially, resulting in students not learning as well. While the most experienced and capable students are able to learn from AI-supported educational resources, struggling students are less able to learn without the support of a real teacher.
Beyond social and emotional additions to the educational curriculum, Mr. Van Damme argues that ethical and esthetical domains will require adequate training and education to develop. Training improvements in manual dexterity will be important for jobs requiring manual intervention that is not routine.
Mr. Van Damme concludes by writing that evidence of the benefits of AI today is everywhere. For example, the vaccines developed to combat COVID-19 would not have been possible without the computers that decoded the genomic sequences of the virus and the possible vaccine combinations to effectively inhibit it. In order to take advantage of this technology, we need to prepare students for a world far more different than the one at the end of the 20th century.
I agree with Mr. Van Damme. If it takes a short piece by him published in the OECD to call attention to the vast changes that we need in our education curriculum, so be it. But the difficulty of implementing or overhauling our education system is complex.
In his recently published book, Human Work, Jamie Merisotis provides more specific and prescriptive recommendations for what education needs to do to prepare workers for the future. I reviewed Human Work when it was published last fall.
Mr. Merisotis wrote that the educational system needs to solve three problems related to preparing individuals for future work. These problems are: 1) more people need higher level learning, 2) we don’t do a good job developing skills that human work requires, and 3) we don’t know what graduates have learned.
Human Work also pointed out (and as I noted in part 2 of my review) that policymakers need to scrap funding approaches that treat education and training as separate activities performed by separate systems.
Michelle Weise’s book, Long Life Learning, pointed out the need for a framework that prepares workers for jobs in a future where AI has supplanted many former jobs. She provides a detailed framework as one way in which education, training, and work can and should collaborate. I wrote about Ms. Weise’s book and suggested that educators read it to prepare their graduates for a future workplace.
The U.S. (and presumably other countries) poured a lot of money into colleges, universities, and public education through multiple COVID-19 funding bills. I think it’s safe to say that an equal amount of funding (or more) will be necessary to prepare students for an AI-enabled world.
Mr. Merisotis wrote that workers need to own their learning in the same way that people need to own their health. While most of the traditional providers of K-20 education are slowly coming around to the need to solve the three problems needed to prepare students for future work, savvy institutions and companies in the education, training, and edtech field will provide solutions to savvy workers.
Those workers left behind will be those who are less able to afford to be left behind. America’s educators and policymakers need to embrace the need for change now. There’s too much evidence to continue to ignore it.