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The Future of Education and the Role of Technology

65% of primary school children will go into jobs that do not yet exist. I was blown away by this statement at a conference in October 2018, I literally spent days ruminating about – what it meant for the children of today? Are robots actually going to take over? Are we destined for mass unemployment? Why bother learning? In reality, the landscape of the future jobs market is very exciting, very different to today, but exciting nonetheless and filled with opportunities. Yes, new skill sets are required and things like programming, coding, software development, design and data analytics are where the biggest opportunities are likely to be. Industry 4.0 brings with it unprecedented opportunity and it should be embraced, with caution - but embraced nonetheless.  Preparing children for the future requires education not just in core and STEM subjects for jobs like those suggested above, but also education in emotional intelligence that robots can never replicate; soft skills, for that is what makes us truly unique. Our hearts and minds, our creativity and passion are what make us human. Sadly, this kind of education is an area which is still lacking in current systems and there is significant work to be done to ensure that teachers are empowered with both the resources and time to be able to deliver such important skills to our children.

How can artificial intelligence possibly help? Artificial intelligence of one kind or another is all around us, whether it be the intelligent sensors in our phones helping us to take the perfect picture, to the sometimes rather annoying personal assistants like Alexa and SIRI. Whilst we have yet to develop robots who have self-awareness, we have developed AI technology in a wide range of applications that significantly impact in our daily lives.

The UAE now has a minister solely dedicated to artificial intelligence, whose ambition is to turn the country into the world’s leading AI hub. We need to follow suit in the UK, we have an AI council which considers using AI responsibly and ethical implications, but we still lack a dedicated AI minister. In the loom of Brexit it is more important than ever that we secure Britain as a world-leading economy. PWC predict that the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) will increase by 10.3% by 2030 as a result of AI. Research undertaken by Microsoft reveals that organisations who are already using AI are outperforming those that are not by 5% in factors such as productivity, performance and business outcomes.

So how does this fit with education? Artificial intelligence is poised to make big changes in the heart of education. Contrary to popular belief, it is highly unlikely that robots will replace teachers in the classroom any time soon. However, artificial intelligence has the ability to shift our education system out of the 20th Century, it has the ability to dramatically improve student learning outcomes and reduce teacher’s workload. And if we reduce teacher’s workload they have time to teach soft skills, right? How? Technology can facilitate concepts such as blended and flipped learning and develop unique learning pathways (where the AI comes in) for individual students based on actual needs, rather than the centuries outdated approach of a teacher in a classroom with rows of students front-facing them and ‘force-feeding’ lessons regardless of learner’s abilities and attainment. We can use AI if it is designed, developed and deployed responsibly to unlock extraordinary potential in education.

It is evident that the key challenges in education at present are; lack of teacher’s time, limited resources and widening gaps in attainment. With these challenges in mind here in NYES we’ve embarked on some exciting journeys exploring how technology can be used to plug gaps in learning and meet our customers’ needs; reducing workload and improving outcomes. At the end of the summer term, NYES launched its first ever partnership with an edtech company; Century - an award-winning learning platform which uses AI to build unique learning pathways and reduce teacher workload. Century can increase learning outcomes by up to 30% and save teachers up to 6 hours per week! I’m really excited to see how this relationship will develop, ensuring that all of our schools in North Yorkshire get the opportunity to experience the software for themselves and how it could deliver impressive results for both students and teachers. In my opinion and the consensus of much research, the biggest advantage of using such software (AI) in the classroom is its ability to free up teacher’s time, for them to teach core subjects as quickly and efficiently as possible, giving them the time to teach the things that are most important; soft skills, mindfulness, emotional intelligence, creativity.

And the journey certainly doesn’t stop here, in innovation we are constantly searching for new ways we can continue to meet our customers’ needs and where something doesn’t yet exist, how we can come up with ways to create it – it’s not always about re-inventing the wheel but rather, using our existing capabilities to deliver products and services in new ways. We have some incredible talent and capabilities across the organisation. The edtech market is possibly one of the fastest-paced industries of all time, it’s a challenge just keeping up with it. This leads us on to another exciting project; we’re exploring how we can potentially work with the DfE to develop an edtech framework; with the aim of ensuring that not only everything that we deliver and schools buy into, is of the quality that we pride ourselves in, but schools across the UK have access to such a framework and quality ‘benchmark’.

Louise Burke

Innovation Manager