What Does it Mean to Prepare Students for a Future with Artificial Intelligence?

By: Beas Dev Ralhan, CEO and Co-founder, Next Education

Mankind has not been able to recover from Frankenstein’ plans of killing its creator. The idea has been further reinforced by other kinds of fiction, both movies and novels. Artificial intelligence (AI) has generated the fear among humans that it can make humans a minority in their own dwelling. First, we need to understand that such fears are completely unfounded. Second, we need to demystify AI to be able to prepare ourselves and our coming generations with the knowledge to get the best of technology and use it for the advancement and progress of mankind.

Role of AI in Society:

Proliferation of big data has actually made it imperative to use AI to analyse data, figure out patterns and make predictions, so that there are positive outcomes in all aspects of life. However, in the process, AI is feared to work better, faster and be more accurate than human beings. This breeds the uncanny fear that it might take over human beings’ jobs; replace them.  But machines and technology are used to complement the work of human beings. Why does a human being need to go deep down a mine risking health and injury, if a robot could do that work for us? That is the usefulness of a machine. To draw on an example closer to the education sector, adaptive learning technology does not mean to, and can never, replace the personalized touch of a teacher; it just eases the role of a teacher. As the popular saying goes – a teacher is just a human and perhaps is not capable to give individual attention to every student in a class of 30 or more pupils. Technology makes the learning gaps of each student visible to a teacher and gives suggestions and action plans to improve upon those and move forward in their learning.

Purpose of Education:

Educators, in the last couple of years, have tried to focus upon making the present generation ready for future jobs. Most people of today are not adept at handling the projects at their workplace because their education did not focus on making them problem-solvers, critical thinkers and collaborators. Today’s education aims to bridge such gaps, as in the future jobs, students would have to work closely with machines. It might not be an exaggeration to say that AI would be one of their colleagues in many ways.  Therefore, today’s curriculum design should be such that it prepares students for challenges like these.

Curriculum Design:

It is often erroneously believed that learning to code and program is only part of the computer science curriculum and important only for those who want to pursue a career in this field. However, being proficient in a programming language enables students to express themselves and use their creativity and imagination in the world of computers. It is like learning another language, and a global one. It widens one’s sphere of understanding and comprehension. With the world becoming digital, coding is important in the field of Arts along with Science and Mathematics. An hour of coding for students aged 12- 13 years could help them gain basic programming skills.

There are many scout programs and short-term summer vacation courses that help students to use programming languages like Java script to make and enhance videos. This fun way of learning could also inspire students to take up computer science as their career. Schools should include robotics, computational arts as a part of their curriculum to help students get comfortable with programming languages from a tender age. Secondary Mathematics curriculum ought to include advanced calculus and put emphasis on mathematics topics that have relevance to computer science, such as probability, graph theory, statistics, etc. In short, the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education needs to increase by threefold at least.

AI Ethics:

If educators are careful enough to design effective curriculums, many of their students would go on to create AI in the future. Therefore, it is best to inculcate some ethical practices and concerns in them early. For instance, speech recognition enables an AI to decode all emails and phone conversations, and report it to the creator. The creator, a human, at no point of time should exploit technology to satisfy their selfish means. Further, an AI could perhaps carry out the job of a nurse and therapist, but human touch is irreplaceable, and thus, AI should never be allowed in professions where there is the need to show empathy. Further, all creators of AI should maintain a policy of transparency.

Interpersonal skills, creativity, etc., are what makes an individual different from a machine. A curriculum should be effective in inculcating these skills in a child. There are a few challenges in implementing such a curriculum. Sometimes it is seen that teachers are not adept at teaching a progressive curriculum. Teacher training programs are the only solution to this.

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