After decades spent discussing how and what to teach in the classrooms, the focus is now turning more to implementation, experts said at the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) conference in Doha, hosted by the Qatar Foundation on 19-21 November.
Ministers and education experts discussed in Doha how to reap the benefits of the digital revolution as new challenges arise from teaching students across the world in the era of artificial intelligence.
OECD countries spend on average 4.5% of their GDP on education. In 2017, government education spending in the EU totalled €715 billion, equivalent to 4.6% of GDP.
At the same time, education itself is transforming to adapt to a changing planet.
In an increasingly uncertain and unstable world, citizens are expected to become life-long learners in order to remain relevant for a fast-changing labour market that will be disrupted by machines.
In Europe and elsewhere, society is being transformed by new technologies, including big data and machine learning.
The new mantra is ‘reskilling’ and ‘upskilling’ competences.
“Artificial intelligence can make education more accessible and personalised,” said Max Tegmark, co-founder of Future of Life Institute. But it also hides a darker side, as it could replace teachers or be used to control students, he warned.
“I am optimistic about the potential of AI”, he added, “but we really have to work for it”.
For Tegmark, one of the priorities should be to draw not only a moral red line but also a legal agreement on what should be allowed and what should not be permitted.
The digital transformation in the long-established sector of schools and universities is forcing decision-makers to be “more responsive and agile” to adapt their policy-making during the implementation phase, to ensure that the impact they wish for is, in fact, achieved.
This was one of the main ideas to emerge during a ministerial discussion with senior government officials from Europe, Asia and Africa, held at the sidelines of the conference under Chatham House rules (the information could be used but not attributed to the source).
Despite well-drafted and evidence-based strategies, the participants noted the long list of challenges when it comes to implementing educational plans.
These include teachers’ resistance to change, communication gaps with stakeholders to adopt strategies, or insufficient resources. In some cases, the lack of preparedness is seen in ministries, attendees said, as public officials do not have private sectors skills to deal with project management.
Governments from Bulgaria to Nepal shared not only their struggle with well-known obstacles but also their eagerness to embrace new technologies.
For Moina Fauchier, author of ‘L’enfant dans la nautre‘, the solution to unlearn and relearn what means to be human in the digital age may not be through exposing kids to more screens, but rather through bringing them back to nature.
“More and more neuroscientist speak about the importance of playing in nature. We not only need to teach about the importance of sustainability, our kids need to know it by getting dirty.”
WISE, which brought the experts together in Doha, is a “platform to forge partnerships” and tackle some of the challenges in the field of education, its CEO Stavros Yiannouka told a group of journalists invited by the organisation.
Qatar’s focus on education is linked not only with its soft-power efforts to put the small Gulf nation on the global map but also with the drive to turn the energy-dependent economy into a brain-power player.
The country, currently under a blockade by its neighbours, still has a lot of catching up to do. In 2015, it ranked among the bottom 10 of OECD’s PISA index of evaluating educational systems.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]