Let’s face it, our kids know their education is insufficient and to a certain extent, a waste of time. Of course, we have sung this song for ages, for generations, but it turns out this generation is right. We must stop educating our children like we did industrial workers. Soon, artificial intelligence (AI) and robots could take on all repetitive tasks available. They are better suited to such jobs, anyway. With those tasks executed by the artificial, creative jobs are what remain. We need a plan to train our children to adapt to unpredictable situations, to be creative.
Educators know traditional teaching methods are going by the wayside. Nowadays, educators have the unique problem of providing children the skills and experiences they need for the modern world in a system which is resistant to change. Parents and politicians, the real power behind public education systems still think teachers must provide knowledge and experience to children. These powerful influences also think every child must have the same opportunities to succeed by receiving the same information and experience. They are half correct. Yes, children should benefit from an educator’s life experience and yes, we must give every child equal opportunity. However, today children know the teacher doesn’t have all the answers and students know in their guts they all have something unique to contribute to society. No child wants to be treated like they must check all the same boxes as every other child. Our children just need guidance to find their way.
Since information is constantly updated on the internet by a whole planet full of experts, our educators no longer need to be subject-matter experts. They can’t beat the millions of experts posting on the Internet in every single subject imaginable, all the time. Just about every child nowadays has access to a smartphone and they know how to use it.
Does that mean teachers can unleash students on the Internet and hope they will pick up the right knowledge they need to succeed in life? No. Young students don’t have the experience to distinguish fact from fiction on the Internet. It is harder for them because they haven’t learned enough about the world and the sources of information available yet. Gaining knowledge on a subject is a mix of information gathering, integration into familiar frameworks, and practice.
Our children need experience
Therefore, a modern educator’s job is to prepare students to live with access to all sources of information. Our young need to learn how to dissect all available information, separate fact from fiction and learn how to integrate the available information into a practical form. What they need is our life experience. Our educators need to help our students navigate that minefield called The Internet. Artificial intelligence can serve as a tool to navigate the Internet intelligently too. I know of a couple AI projects that already help us doing that. Check out Knowhere News for AI-filtered news items to get see what is information curation using artificial intelligence.
On top of honing our children’s information-gathering and discernment skills, educators need to create challenges for their charges. Students need practice to integrate the newly gathered information. This is how our brain works, so no getting around that. Once a child has assimilated concepts through practice, they can continue to practice those skills in more creative and complex ways, at their own pace.
Remember, we need not prepare our children for repetitive tasks. Many narrow AI is already better than anyone else at doing that, and within the next 10 years, artificial intelligence will take over even repetitive tasks that carry some unpredictability. According to the Global McKinsey Institute, 50% of all paid tasks today can be done better with AI. No sense in training our children to do those.
The future human economy
In a world filled with expert AI, what we need are people that fill a more human demand. What we should prepare for is a world where human beings are engaged in creative endeavors. What we need to train our designers, artists, engineers, builders, philosophers, social workers, entrepreneurs, and entertainers. Even the future economy, whatever form it may take, will have an offer and demand component. One thing automated devices, no matter the sophistication, cannot reproduce is human demand for human services.
Even if a super-intelligent robot can wait your table at your favorite gourmet restaurant more efficiently than any human being, the clientele may prefer being served by a human waiter-entertainer. Life is not all about efficiency. Humans always seek relationships, human companionship, human experiences. The baseball player that loves the game, will still love to play even though a robotic baseball player could hit the ball harder, farther and more consistently. The painter will still love to paint even though AI today can already produce new creative pieces much faster.
In a world where AI could produce everything, even art, in infinite quantities and higher quality, the value of the human touch will be exactly that: the human touch. In that future world, we’ll be free to chase whatever dream we wish to chase, knowing automated systems can produce everything we need as a commodity at commodity prices. What will become valuable and cherished, is whatever humans produce with all its inefficiency and faults.
Children born today could live in that world by the time they reach adulthood. We need to adapt our education system accordingly as soon as possible.
The future of the school system
I believe we need to reinvent our education system. We need to focus on learning skills as mentioned earlier in this article. We’re in the process of shaping the new leaders of our society, just like before. It’s just that the world will be very different for our growing children. They will need to adapt to an exponential number of changes in the world, but if we play our cards right, their prospects at making a living won’t depend on tasks AI can do better than them, anyway. No, our children will be whoever they wish to be in the world. They’ll have the opportunity to follow their passions without fear of survival. Just by being unique individuals, each individual child could become a Mozart at being themselves, enjoyed by thousands. We won’t admire them because they can do something more efficiently than anyone else. AI will always carry that trophy. When our children become adults, we will admire their unique contributions to society because they are faulty, unpredictable yet excellent human beings. They will surprise and amaze at doing incredible things despite not being controlled by artificial intelligence.
That’s how we humans will keep our place and our purpose in our society once AI can deliver the goods in most vertical better than we can.
We must structure our education system to deliver our children into adulthood with the baggage they need to strive in an unpredictable offer and demand situation. It will feel like an unfair world where AI wins the efficiency and productivity battle all the time. We cannot compete with robots on those terms. We must challenge our children to become the best person they can be. They must contribute real human value to others, a value not measured in bottom lines and economic forecasts, but in feeling.
Instead of focusing on careers, our education system will need to focus on projects that train students how to use the available resources, including robots and AI, to achieve their individual goals. We will all need a system that allows individual objectives, not tailor-made careers. Coming from the private sector myself, speaking with CEOs all the time, I can tell you that even today, the quality we’re looking for the most out of a new graduate is not the name of the degree or the school. We look at the projects the candidate has already delivered. We’re looking for a graduate that can creatively deliver on a project with minimal supervision. This means an ability to filter out new information, using the right tools, to reach a desired goal.
We can use online education platforms models like that of the Khan Academy to structure learning. The student can learn new material from a classroom or at home. Whichever method makes more sense. Also, they can learn at their own pace since learning can be individual. In parallel, educators can be available for experiential learning, providing access to laboratories, group exploration, building projects and complex intellectual challenges. We can retrain traditional educators to support those efforts even now. Teachers need to guide each student through a process where he or she considers the student’s individual desires. That’s the best way they can become experienced and therefore a desired candidate for hire later in life. Educators can structure physical and online lessons to benefit each individual student’s interests, abilities and learning speed.
We can adapt schools to facilitate these experiential exercises, but we must break even further away from tradition. Younger students could work with older students on group projects: younger students could learn from the more experienced, while older students could learn leadership skills. We should stay goodbye to set levels and age groups and make way instead to learning groups based on interests and capability.
Done right, students would feel empowered, motivated and energized because their education would be in their own hands with measures of success based on successful completion of the tasks they have set out to do.
Then, colleges and universities would receive freshmen used to collaborative work, students that think on their own two feet, and successfully complete projects.
We have a huge challenge in front of us. Lots of changes need to happen within only a few years. If we can focus on our children’s ability to learn, adapt and create, they’ll be able to tackle any problem they may face. Since this future is not here yet, we must do our best to create excellent, happy and adaptable adults. We have the experiences. They have their whole lives ahead of them. Let’s give them the benefit of our experience and create a better world with them.