Can teaching and learning outwit automation?

The Edtech Podcast’s Sophie Bailey reports on the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ and delivering the skills we need

The world’s education ministers gathered in London recently to discuss teaching and preparing students for an automated age.

The Education World Forum, held a week after Davos, tackled fundamental questions for education including: Will automation destroy the current jobs market? Does our current teaching and learning prepare us for a world where we fully co-exist with AI? Where should education institutions focus their efforts?

If predictions that higher premiums on creative and collaborative skills are correct, how should teachers and learners ‘pivot’ to position effectively? Teacher delegations from around the world attended the event, with the OECD driving the following suggestions:

  • Give teachers decision-making power over their work.
  • Provide a knowledge base for teaching and professional development.
  • Support peer networks which are opportunities for exchange and support needed to maintain
  • high standards of teaching.
  • Use technology to amplify innovative teaching.

Whilst OECD recommendations and PISA tables are sometimes a contentious subject, it is possible to see the UK’s education community thinking along the same lines. The Chartered College of Teaching and the Teaching Excellence Framework in HE are looking to raise the game of the profession (amid financial restraints). Technology is providing a platform for self-starting educators and students to build communities
of support such as WomenEd and Teachmeet.

How do we create sustainable teacher-student ratios and is our current practice delivering the skills those people need?

Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at OECD/PISA points to the fundamental problem in episode 55 of The Edtech Podcast. “We know that the kind of things that are easy to teach, easy to test have also become easy to digitise, automate, to outsource, putting a higher premium on creative skills.” Current education data shows that the world’s educated young people are over-qualified in ‘signifier degrees’ but underqualified in the skills they need to gain employment.

Justin van Fleet, from the UN and Director of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, said: “By 2030 there will be

1.6 billion young people in the world and over half of those people will not have the skills they need to enter the workforce.”

Mammo Muchie, Research Professor on Innovation and Development at the Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa, would agree.

He is launching the African Talent Hub, an accelerator/incubator of start-ups with the aim of developing skills, retaining top talent and providing growth and employability within communities. “You know graduates. They get certificates, they get degrees, but they don’t always get jobs.”

How can educational institutions innovate to reverse this trend?

“Teaching more teachers just doesn’t cut it in terms of the world stage. The way of scaling that much more is to use technology.” said Pratik Dattani, Country Director for the UK, for the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Dattani sees huge improvements in Indian education, ‘India has a million students graduating every year. Literacy rates have tripled today compared to what they were three years ago’. He sees Indian students and parents as very savvy consumers, looking at online tutoring and university courses in the UK and US in terms of specific ROI for employability. For Michael Kerrison at the University of London this means directly expanding online services and international programmes, though he admits he is “hanging on by his fingernails” to keep up with the pace of technical change.

So, can teaching and learning outwit automation?

We all know humans are wittier than bots, but time will tell if we can reap the educational benefits, maintain our creative edge and live alongside one another.

Quotations are taken from Episode 55 of the iTunes new and nominated The Edtech Podcast, recorded at the Economic Innovation Conference 2017 at the University of London.