Stephen Metcalfe: We must reshape the national education system to accomodate AI skills

Posted On: 
15th July 2019

If we’re to prepare our children for working and living with AI, we must reshape the national education system and prioritise the skills that will allow younger generations to thrive in the new digital age, says Stephen Metcalfe

Children at the nursery 'Seepferdchen' learn coding in a playful way
Credit: 
PA Images

AI technologies already play a huge role in our daily lives. From preventive healthcare to personalised learning, and from easier access to government services to fighting crime, AI is rapidly transforming both our economy and our society.

As co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence (APPG AI), I have now heard from over 140 experts unpacking AI’s impact across different sectors and domains. The opportunities are clear.

AI technologies can bring a huge number of economic benefits on the individual, corporate, national and global level – including increased efficiency, profitability and productivity. More than just economic benefits, however, AI has the power to bring significant social benefits as well. Some of these benefits are already being realised across various spheres including health, education and public safety. We can now use AI to predict health issues that people are likely to face in their futures, to teach a child in a remote part of the world how to read, or to detect and prevent crime in both our physical and virtual spaces.

Yet at the same time I am told about AI’s socio-economic opportunities, I am also warned about its potential risks. Data misuse, technological unemployment, manipulation, algorithmic bias, security threats and inequality gaps are only some of the issues.

More than ever, the question we are being asked to address is: how do we prepare our younger generations to reap these benefits but also empower them to guard against their potential harms? How do we prepare our children for working and living with AI in their futures?

In March, the APPG AI organised an evidence meeting inviting parliamentarians, industry representatives and academics to explore precisely this challenge. First, we looked at how prepared and equipped our current education systems are for the “AI revolution” and, second, explored how AI technologies can be embedded within learning environments to help improve education outcomes.

At the heart of this challenge is the need to prioritise the right skills that will empower younger generations to not only work with AI but to live alongside AI. It won’t be necessary for every student to be a good coder, much as not every car-driver needs to be a mechanic. But everyone will need a sense of what sorts of things AI systems can do and, more importantly, what sorts of things AI systems cannot do.

AI technologies themselves can be part of the solution, helping transform the learning experience for students worldwide so they can have a high-quality personalised education that provides essential digital understanding. AI can reduce barriers to access education, automate management processes, analyse learning patterns and optimise learning processes with a view to improving learning outcomes.

In summary, AI technologies have the potential to tackle at least five challenges of our current education system. AI can tackle the excessive workload teachers face nowadays. It can provide students and teachers with more flexible pathways to learning, stopping the existing one-size-fits-all model. AI can transform the way students are assessed. It can create a collaborative and open ecosystem in which insights are shared between education systems. And, lastly, AI can help tackle low social mobility and inconsistency of education provision.

Indeed, as our education systems are transformed by AI, we must also consider the potential implications. We must work together to address issues around bias and discrimination, understanding and adaptability, data misuse and likelihood of access for only wealthier members of society.

Ultimately, however, the benefits of AI in education will far outweigh the downsides, and we need to pave the roadmap for how to reap the former while mitigating the latter. However, the revolution will not happen without the support of policymakers.

Policymakers need to comprehend the scale and speed AI will transform education and steer the national education system in a way that truly prepares our younger generations for their futures.

Stephen Metcalfe is Conservative MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock, and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence