Challenges and opportunities in education

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This week we are taking a look at some articles we’ve come across recently in the world of education and schools. It’s a general look at what’s happening out there, and provides some interesting perspectives on how various emerging challenges and opportunities either affect or are being addressed within schools and education systems.

An ability to collaborate, or work with someone to produce something, is seen as an essential skill in articles we read that describe what it takes to thrive in the emerging economy – an era of exponential technologies and disruptive innovation changing the world of work, business and life.

Public school systems are picking up on its importance, and activities that develop an ability to collaborate are being designed into how students learn. Project Lead the Way (PTLW) specialises in project-based STEM learning for students, and is looking to measure how well its students can collaborate. Their answer? Testing.

Not just traditional multiple-choice, but tests that rely on technological advancements to enhance the testing experience. Instead of multiple choice, it’s drag and drop answers, collaboration with an AI to solve problems, and fill in the blanks. The jury’s out on how different this actually is to traditional tests.

Linda Darling-Hammond from the Learning Policy Institute favours performance assessments (portfolios, observations etc.) through hands-on tasks, given that collaboration traditionally relies on human interaction and teamwork. But then human bias can creep in, and some are concerned that the data can become ‘muddied’. So what’s the way forward?

Possibly the answer is both, along with other forms of assessment. PTLW is taking a step in using emerging technologies to try and measure a soft skill – not an easy thing to do. Just because it’s not 100% right now doesn’t mean they should not persist, and they may come up with something significant one day. Observation and recording of process is also important, and having excellent teachers well-trained to do so can only benefit students.

Should testing be kept or cast aside? 

Here’s an interesting piece of research which explores how robots can be used in education as tutor or peer learners. It consists of a meta-analysis of all available literature on robots in education from several sources according to certain criteria. Findings include that social robots have been shown to have promise in assisting learning and have a physical presence that online technologies lack and students respond to, but they are not yet able to respond to speech effectively and develop a natural flow of interaction. Currently, robots that support educational practice are specialised, and although serious technical and logistical challenges exist we may one day see them alongside teachers as part of the learning infrastructure.

What are your thoughts about robot tutors being used to support learning?

“If this, then do this.” – Any job that operates by this format is at risk, as this line is essentially how code works while telling AI and robots what to do. In this article from Futurism, various experts are asked to take a best guess about who will likely suffer the most due to automation. 

Each approaches the question from their own perspective, but common themes emerge: routine manual and cognitive tasks, and any high repetition, low value process is at risk. A position involving complex, higher-order thinking, customised services, high social and emotional intelligence and real-time iterative problem diagnosis and solving is safe (for now).

From the article:

“Technology is going to continue to advance, and in reality, all of us are going to have become life-long learners, constantly upgrading our skills. The most important skills to have will be knowing how to be highly efficient at iterative learning — “unlearning and relearning” — and developing high emotional and social intelligence.”

Life-long learning, unlearning and relearning, emotional and social intelligence. Are these skills, attitudes and intelligences part of how we currently learn in school?

Russia is emerging as a key battleground between educational reformists and traditionalists. With President Putin promising education reform in which Russia’s schools are globally competitive yet rooted in traditional spiritual and moral values, battle lines are being drawn for influence in policy creation and within ministries. Modernists are looking globally for inspiration, with student-centred, project-based learning among approaches being considered, and they see these approaches as being key to breaking Russia’s low performance in educational attainment. However, the current minister for education and science favours a return to the best of the Soviet method, with an emphasis on memorisation of literary classics and teacher-led instruction.

This conversation is relevant globally, with policy makers and influencers seeking both seeking solace in the past and looking to the future. Given the competencies that will likely be required for learners and workers based on research and data we are seeing, our support is with the reformists, and reform apparently can’t come soon enough for Russia’s students.

In October 2017, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Government launched its Strategy for Artificial Intelligence – the first of its kind in the world. Education is one of the sectors included within the scope of the strategy, and the UAE’s new State Minister for Artificial Intelligence is looking at how to use AI to ‘cut costs and enhance desire for education’.

Along with improved monitoring and efficiencies to ‘disrupt’ government, the focus is also on the fourth industrial revolution and preparing the workforce of tomorrow. Experts are advising the government that students need to learn AI skills, and that AI can be used to help teachers teach the required ‘soft skills’, using predictive models for engagement and comprehension in collaborative, personalised learning. It can also take ‘basic’ tasks such as grading and evaluation away from the teacher, and in addition students should learn a new AI curriculum.

There lies the challenge.

If an AI curriculum is added to an already crowded programme, what will be removed? If nothing is removed, to what depth or effectiveness will AI skills be learned? Basic grading and evaluation implies a/b/c/d testing – can ‘soft skills’ be measured through testing? As we’ve seen in recent posts, the evidence suggests not yet, and performance assessments more effectively measure soft skills – these are not basic to administer at all. And if testing is the means of assessment, what does the teaching look like? As for the overall goal, does using AI to ‘cut costs and enhance desire for education’ align with transforming learning to prepare the workforce of tomorrow?

It’s very early days yet, and this is a brand-new initiative venturing onto ground that the UAE Government is to be applauded for. We will continue to watch with interest, and leave your thoughts about AI in Education and learning in the comments below.

To finish, something quickly from Look at the increase in cost of education and college expenses in the USA from 1997-2017. Young people are getting into greater debt that will stay with them for decades – to what purpose?

Does the traditional school-university-job pathway prepare students for the real world where the real jobs and opportunities will be? Is it necessary to spend all this money? Are credentials really that important? Are they still relevant? How about 5 or 10 years from now?

The research conducted and insights gained during the writing of this article have inspired the Indigo Schools Framework, the details of which can found in the Primer on our Resources Page. Send us an email at or complete the form below if you’d like to learn more about how the Indigo Schools Framework can be successfully applied within your school. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Linkedin for our latest updates.

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