During AER’s event on artificial intelligence (AI) attendees broke into five roundtable discussion groups, each addressing an area of AI important to stakeholders. The group called Skills and Competences: Racing with Machines discussed the skills and competences which will become the most valuable as AI continues to progress. A central focus for the group was on the reforms needed in education systems to better prepare students for labour market’s changing landscape.
The group benefited from the presence of multiple education experts whose regions are at the forefront of educational reform. Moderating the group was Ann Nowe of the VUB Artificial Intelligence lab, who brought first-hand knowledge of the latest developments in the capabilities of AI. The VUB AI lab was an event partner and helped organise a study visit to their lab where attendees could witness real innovation in AI.
Contributors involved in their region’s education systems were Sanna Parkkinen, a County Councilor from North Karelia, Leonardo Lorusso, the Head of Education and Culture in Lombardy and Paolo Bresciani of the Fondazione Bruno Kessler in Trentino. Each of these contributors provided insight into the reforms needed by education systems and the areas support required implement them.
Going forward, a challenge identified by contributors will be addressing the gap between the skills many individuals possess and those required by the labour market. According to contributors, education systems have yet to adapt to a labour market which requires prospective employees to be able to understand and work with AI.
Currently, education systems are under tremendous financial stress making it difficult for them to get the funding they need to carry out the appropriate educational reforms. Even when resources become available, it can be difficult to determine what outcomes the education system should be producing. Nowadays, the pace of technological innovation has become so fast that skills can become outmoded in a matter of years making it difficult for education systems to determine which ones to prioritise.
Contributors stated that education systems must be modernised to increase their compatibility with the labour market’s current conditions. Indeed, education system’s outcomes must be designed with the goal of giving students the skills which are needed to obtain secure jobs. Like many, contributors advocated for making computer science a mandatory component of school curriculums at all levels (K-Higher Ed.).
In nearly every Western country, jobs in the tech sector are among those with the fastest growth rates. The sheer number of jobs required means that every year, jobs are left unfilled. Thus, becoming proficient coders practically prints tickets to money for students. Even if students do not eventually end up with jobs in the tech sector, computer science classes will give citizens a better understanding of the digital world in which they live. Being able to code also helps teach children valuable skills such as the ability to problem solve and think critically.
If computer science classes are to become mandatory, contributors claimed teachers will have to be well trained in computer science. Currently, a barrier to schools offering computer science classes is that too few teachers have the knowledge needed to teach those classes.
While coding may be a new form of literacy, contributors said that schools need to work on building people’s soft skills. Contributors affirmed the notion that soft skills such as emotional intelligence, people management, and creative problem solving-at least for the time being-will remain the sole domain of people. With computers struggling to adopt these skills, these competencies will become increasingly attractive to employers.
Contributors also recommended that education systems rethink their priorities to emphasise lifelong learning. Transitioning to a lifelong learning model means shifting away from rewarding memorisation to encouraging curiosity and creativity. These skills are the foundations for the entrepreneurial workforce which an AI driven society will create.
Paolo Bresciani presented the steps they have taken to modernise their education system for the digital age. In Trentino, the secondary school curriculum has been updated to help students learn more about ICT and new technologies. Moreover, Trentino has established traineeships to assist students in the application and development their ICT skills, increasing their future employability. To encourage students to take initiative, Trentino has launched prizes for students who develop research projects.
Meanwhile, Sanna Parkkinen underlined that North Karelia is hard at work developing a project to begin teaching preschoolers how to use technology. A similar project is also being designed for primary school students to help them acquire technological skills and literacy. The projects are a part of a push in North Karelia to equip students with the computer science skills which are becoming increasingly important as AI advances.
Leonardo Lorusso explained Lombardy has set up a task force to determine which skills and competences are high in demand, brining together all relevant stakeholders from education organisations to businesses. The ad hoc group emerged as a part of Lombardy’s 2030 initiative aimed at increasing the region’s economic development and competiveness.