The technological revolution has brought tremendous opportunities, but also fears in the developing world that it will displace human workers with automation and artificial intelligence (AI). How can better education prevent this from happening?
Education systems in developing countries face three interrelated challenges. First, despite improving participation of school-age population at all levels, learning has lagged behind significantly. Without substantially raising learning outcomes, the returns on education investments will continue to be low.
Second, foundational skills have moved beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic. Digital skills and soft skills are now equally important to prepare graduates. Third, even as higher education levels rise, employers still struggle to find candidates with the right skills – closing the skills mismatch is imperative.
The radical disruptions that are taking place in the tech world provide an opportunity for countries that are able to harness these technologies for education. Three complementary opportunities are emerging.
First, advancement in Big Data analytics and AI have enabled specialized firms to mine data from professional job portals, company databases, and government databases to identify the skills in demand. Armed with this information, along with analysis on emerging and dying occupations, governments can now establish dynamic labor market intelligence systems to provide real-time labor market information for job seekers.
Countries in developing Asia can benefit tremendously from such systems that inform education and training institutions to prepare learners.
For example, JobKred is using AI and big data analytics to help individuals prepare skills profiles to identify any skills gaps and pursue training to reduce them in Singapore. Such support is also available for enterprises and schools, and the government has launched the Skills Future program to provide lifelong learning opportunities with vouchers to upgrade skills from different training providers.
Second, learning management systems (LMS) can integrate all the key elements of an education system—including data from students, teachers, and parents, as well as teaching and learning materials, assessments, and partnerships with employers—to enhance learning for all. This kind of Big Data application raises the quality of teaching, tracks learning performance, assesses the effectiveness of learning materials, and gathers feedback on the skills that are most critical for future employers.
LMS systems provide continuous feedback to students to ensure that the learners master different competencies as they progress, while parents and the oversight institutions know on a real-time basis how the system is performing. There are numerous online learning platforms governments can choose from.
An integrated LMS can represent the much-needed learning backbone for a solid education system. A good example is Indian firm Extramarks, which is extending quality learning to more than 9,000 public and private schools in the country.
Third, both public and private education and training providers are increasingly able to provide broad-based and customizable services in specific areas as part of a LMS. If the core LMS is well designed, other learning platforms can interface with it.
For example, in the Republic of Korea there are a number of specialized learning platforms that provide different learning opportunities such as drone technology, robotics, music, etc. Depending on the interest of learners and school management, it will be possible to choose which areas are most in demand and blend well with the resources available.
Such a system will not only help to personalize learning, it can also create viable markets for teaching and learning in a healthy and transparent manner.
For the government, it can promote areas that yield the highest return and promote equity through efficient use of its scare resources. For parents, it will be possible to understand whether their children are learning well.
For teachers, it will be possible to identify slow learners and thus support them more effectively. And for students, they will be able to choose courses and institutions more objectively in line with their interest, abilities, aspirations, and opportunities for employment (including self-employment).
Education systems should focus on preparing human resources that are resilient, enduring, and continuously trainable, anchored on a mindset of entrepreneurship, innovativeness, creativity and sustainability.
There is reason for optimism and great potential to leverage technology to transform teaching and learning to improve learning and labor market outcomes. For countries in developing Asia, it will require a tremendous amount of political will and effective leadership to leapfrog to strategic programs and investment in education and skills development in partnerships with traditional and new partners.
Instead of worrying about the consequences of AI and robotics, let's focus first on finding more effective and innovative solutions to prepare a new generation of learners to adapt and manage new technologies for better education and labor market outcomes.