The Future of Education in an Automated World

The Future of Education in an Automated World

Since the 18th Century and the start of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, education for the masses has been designed and operated as a conveyor belt of supply and demand. Supply being the workers, demand being the employers. Educationalists such as myself have been the enablers, the managers, the validators of what is, in essence, a human assembly line.

During the 20th century this assembly line educational system went global to the extent that it is now firmly established in every country, albeit to differing levels of quality and effectiveness. It not only feeds the needs of industry and commerce, at its best it also feeds intellect, creativity, identity and upward social mobility. In short, it underpins the very essence of who we are and what we can become.

The educational assembly line has proved fundamental to global aspirations for prosperity. It has fuelled the tremendous growth in the global middle class. Not only is it effective, it is resilient. It demonstrated that resilience in the second half of the last century when post-industrial economies started to emerge initially in the West and then globally. The demand changed, and in response so did the assembly line, well slightly.

But what comes next for us all is about to test the education assembly line to destruction.

Imagine a world of driver-less vehicles, especially lorries. A world where a smiling and sophisticated robot greets you at the hotel reception desk, the airport, the train station, and checks you in. The factories are busy producing high-tech goods but there are no humans in them, other than a few managers. These buildings are eerily quiet. No music, no chatter, no sound other than machines at work. AI will take your order in your favourite restaurant; deal with your bank account query; sell you insurance; police your streets; do your shopping and deliver that shopping home; it will drive your taxi without getting lost.

AI will, in my opinion, eventually replace us all to some degree. Yes, maybe even educationalists such as myself. For there will no longer be the need for any educational human assembly line.

Why? Because there will be no demand.

The issues raised by AI are so profound, so awesome, and so complex that even the best minds in the world are struggling to grasp them. But what we do know is that AI is already here, we are already on the path to world where AI does our work for us. This is no longer a vision, it is a reality.

So where does that leave education?

I envisage a world where education never, ever ceases. We learn constantly, as it suits us to do so. It starts at kindergarten and carries on until we die. We choose to learn for the sake of learning, not to get a job. But we do not learn by subject. We learn communication, socialisation, community, sustainability, inter-culturalisation. We do not learn to do, we learn to think, collaborate, engage. The ‘doing’ bit, the subject bit, follows on from that. We learn to live balanced lives, where paid employment is only a small part of our daily existence. We learn to become informed citizens, exposed to knowledge and to possibilities we cannot yet imagine.

We do not learn to compete with each other. We do not celebrate our exam results. There are no exams. We celebrate what we’ve learned and how to put that knowledge into effect for the benefit of humankind.

We do not learn to become materially wealthy. Our wealth is in our intellect, our knowledge. We will live in a world where AI produces the wealth and that wealth gets shared amongst us all. To work will be a privilege and therefore that gets shared also.

Does this sounds too far-fetched for you? Too utopian. Impossibly idealistic?

Perhaps, though I’m not the only educationalist with this vision.

It is already being seriously explored in Finland, a country that has, for many decades, been at the forefront of educational advancement and blue sky thinking regards education.

Like Dr Marjo Kyllonen, Education Manager for Helsinki, I too believe that the assembly line education system worked fine for the industrial age, but that age has gone. That style of education is no longer fit for purpose.

As Dr Kyllonen asks, ‘If we invented schools today, what would they be like?’

They wouldn’t be like the schools I attended as a child back in the 1950s and 1960s, though that is the education model we are still forcing upon our children.

Around the world there are countless numbers of teachers still doing ‘chalk and talk’; only they’ve progressed to a white board. The kids are copying and handwriting in their text book. But in their leisure time they are using smartphones, ipads and computers.

In terms of accessing information and knowledge, the students are already ahead of the teacher.

“The traditional way says that everyone in the class has to do the same thing, at the same time, at the same rate, just like people did when they were on assembly lines. And that was relevant for those days. Today, we should be focusing on how to enable individuals to achieve their utmost potential.”

AI presents us with the most incredible opportunity to replace education for work with education for empowerment, education for the sheer joy of learning.

All of us, especially those of us who are educational professionals, should get prepared.

The industrialised education assembly line is dead.

Let us bury it.


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