Automation disrupts international education goals

Automation disrupts international education goals

(London, England) Even as career education gains momentum at the state and federal levels, the U.S. still ranks ninth in the world in ensuring schools are adequately preparing students for careers less likely to be replaced by automation, according to a new report.

With the spread of artificial intelligence and the automation of simpler tasks in the workplace threatening to reduce the need for workers in some areas–and in some industries already doing so–schools must emphasize curriculum tied to pathways on the cutting edge of science and technology, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the research and analysis division of The Economist magazine.

Researchers found that career education is hindered in many countries by a lack of adaptability. They also found that few have updated curricula in schools to prepare students for more technical careers, and that educators in many places aren’t trained to understand advances in technology, let alone how to teach students about using technology.

In addition to stressing the need for training in technology, authors of the report noted there is also a need for schools to emphasize soft skills, including communication, adaptability, critical thinking and teamwork.

“Vocational training in most countries remains too focused on low-skilled occupations to be of use in preparing young people for the automated workplace,” authors of the report wrote. “Intelligent automation is expected to boost the importance of both education related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and of so-called soft skills, which allow workers to trade on their uniquely human capabilities.

“However, in all but the highest-scoring countries, little has been done to prepare future workers through school curricula or, just as importantly, teacher training,” they concluded.

It has been predicted that emerging technologies already transforming the workplace could displace 400 million to 800 million people working low-skilled jobs worldwide by 2030, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

In the United States, federal policymakers have committed increased funding in recent years to expand career education opportunities, and some states have adopted their own targeted approaches as well. In Massachusetts, for instance, $45 million is being invested over three years to expand and improve career-and-technical schools, making the programs more responsive to the changing job market, and connecting pathways to two- and four-year universities.

And California, Georgia, Colorado, New York and Louisiana are among the number of states that have pushed for partnerships between schools and local businesses that give students the opportunity to develop real-world training and soft skills through apprenticeships.

Despite such progress, researchers note that the U.S. is tied with the U.K. for ninth behind South Korea, Estonia, Singapore, Germany, Canada, France, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates.

The ranking places the U.S. about in the middle of the 25 industrialized nations reviewed for the report.

Authors of the study analyzed each country’s policies related to early education, 21st century skills strategies, technology education programs and data literacy, assessment of 21st century skills, teacher training and use of artificial intelligence and data in education–among other indicators.

They found that the five top-performing countries have all begun to reform teacher education and training, making it more adaptable to potential workforce changes. Often, this includes training teachers in the use of advanced technologies, they said.

South Korea is at the top of the list because of its efforts to reform teacher training and assessment and to update school curricula to integrate soft skill development into classwork, according to the report.

Researchers concluded, however, that not a single country is genuinely ready for the age of intelligent automation–even Germany, which they say has been a standard-bearer for the expansion of digital manufacturing strategies in which AI and robotics play a central role.

They said that policymakers should prepare for a long period of trial and error before best practices begin to emerge, as there are still many unknowns about precisely how automation technologies will affect the workforce and what types of responses will be effective.

Still, they said, it is vital that they continue trying.

“In a world where routine tasks are automated, schools will need to teach students skills that software or machines cannot yet easily replicate,” researchers wrote. “At the same time, they must provide students with a grounding in certain technical skills, such as computational thinking, which are likely to be required in most future roles. As these technologies evolve, so will the roles of humans that work with them.”