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30 May 2024
Mike Douse

Fundamental Educational Challenges – Awaiting AI-supported Solutions

With the creative support of Artificial Intelligence (AI), it may now be possible to solve the basic problems facing education across the world. But first it is necessary to define the underlying issues, within the context of education’s own transformation, and to agree on what success would look like. In this blogpost, Mike Douse puts forward – as a basis for discussion – his set of crucial challenges. Once a final list is agreed upon, we must, he argues, develop and agree upon plans and initiate action in order to achieve solutions soon.

This is by no means the first attempt at identifying such a list of challenges to the transformation of education. Venerable organisations, notably UNESCO (2022) and the World Bank (Bustillo and Patrinos, 2023), and many others (such as Carpenter, 2023) have put together their collections of challenges, all of which have been studied by the present author. Although the set that follows is similar in some respects to those earlier efforts, where it does differ is in that it recognises that education will itself alter radically, as necessitated and enabled by contemporary and ever-evolving technology.

The present author’s understanding of this forthcoming fundamental transformation (see, for example, Douse and Uys, 2020 and 2022) is embodied in both the thirteen challenges outlined below and the optimum implicit responses to each and to all. Moreover, the list below is seen as a practical starting-point for a determined drive towards solving each challenge – and their totality – by competent and inspired people working creatively with Artificial Intelligence. Despite being overfocussed upon risks and danger, a recent NORRAG Policy Insights publication suggests some of the kinds of realistic AI-supported solutions that may be applied. Accordingly, as each item below is studied, readers should please consider creatively how AI may be brought to bear in enabling humans to achieve their desired specific and overall outcomes.

  1. Everyone, including the most marginalized and disadvantaged in all of our societies worldwide, must have unhindered and affordable access to their chosen learning opportunities throughout their lives.
  2. Poverty, geography, disability, gender, ethnicity and other factors continue to hold millions back from learning. These barriers must be overcome and inclusive and transformative education, free from compulsion, violence and discrimination, must lead to equivalent educational outcomes across all communities and over each category within them.
  3. Some two-thirds of those in low-income countries, and half of those in middle-income countries, lack even the minimum conditions to learn at home. In terms of equipment, connectivity, family or other facilitation, and of learner self-confidence, that must be rectified worldwide as an immediate priority.
  4. There are insufficient, good-quality teachers and their systems and situations are presently characterised by poor support, low morale, limited status and inadequate remuneration. Under present arrangements, that will always be the case. In times to come, the requirement will be for fewer but much more capable, flexible and AI-supported teachers, benefitting from dedicated and continuous professional development. Ensuring that all teachers are committed and well-equipped to perform their evolving and exciting roles – both face-to-face, at-a-distance and online – is vital and – on a worldwide basis – affordable.
  5. Early learning, delivered by an especially trained specialist or a competent and well-supported family member, is the foundation for emotional wellbeing and the love of learning throughout life. Active parental involvement is crucial, neuroscience’s findings should be given attention, and governments must ensure that all children receive safe and stimulating development support in these crucial years.
  6. Primary/preparatory schooling is the key educational phase, necessitating for all children a dedicated professional (or team) providing in-person care and teaching within a safe and congenial setting. All education should be fun but pre-school learning should be based on play. In addition to acquiring fundamental literacy, numeracy and digital skills, the main objective is to achieve agency: the capacity and motivation to lead their learning thereafter. For each individual, this phase concludes at whatever age that ability and determination to self-direct be recognised by learner and teacher as having been acquired.
  7. Secondary/higher/lifelong learning. Once agency is achieved, with every learner enabled and ready to lead their own learning (choice of subjects, curriculum, location, scheduling, recognition…), a wide and ever-developing range of learner-centred modules must be accessible. At this stage and onwards, the teacher becomes supporter and facilitator rather than director and assessor: no longer an authority figure but a guide by the side, ever available upon call.
  8. Similarly, schools become convivial processes rather than sets of buildings – in a sense, there becomes just the one universal school – although some facilities (laboratories, musical and artistic provision, sports amenities) cannot, with even the greatest ingenuity, be duplicated virtually. Moreover, the socialisation aspects of schooling (although sometimes negative) need to be embodied in the transformed arrangements (sports teams, drama clubs, choirs, debating societies), always recognising earlier provisions regarding universality, inclusion and equity.
  9. All (post-primary) learners will, well-aware of possibilities and implications, determine their own learning objectives. Education should not directly address such existential challenges as global warming, democratic backsliding, biodiversity loss, devastating pandemics and the like, any more than it should be used as a propaganda tool for particular political systems or specific religious fidelities, or in the production of ‘good’ citizens, or of child soldiers. In this interconnected world, peaceful, fair, and sustainable societies are most likely to be identified, created and maintained by a well-educated world populace.
  10. Accreditation and Selection. Undeniably, universities, professions and training institutions will still need to apply admittance criteria, just as employers will still seek to choose between competing applicants. Every effort should be made to ensure that these processes cease dominating the sector, just as disparities between the outputs of schools and the priorities of industry should not be bewailed. While, say, a medical faculty or an aero-tech company may demand the completion of specific modules, this should not undermine the enjoyable and largely non-competitive participation of all human beings in self-led learning throughout post-primary life.
  11. Digital transformation requires harnessing technology to enable educational transformation, making it more inclusive, equitable, effective, relevant to learners’ priorities, and sustainable. From supporting pre-primary teachers and family members, through to investigating the boundaries of knowledge, this implies free, high-quality digital education content along with pedagogical innovation and role change. With the digitisation of course material, immersive classrooms, and entire virtual universities (Douse, 2023), are feasible (if not always desirable!).
  12. Private Actions and Public Responsibilities. Education sector authorities and stakeholders may join with governments and international bodies in formulating and enforcing a regulatory framework to guide the support to education from business and the non-government sector around the world. Properly regulated and reasonably rewarded, the private sector will be a massive education provider, helping address the specific needs of disadvantaged groups, particular communities and, indeed, entire countries. In the AI context, most of the systems and devices that will revolutionize learning will come from the private sector.
  13. With career-driven competition diminished, family support may be directed towards enabling learners’ enjoyment and self-fulfilment. Similarly, public financing, still constituting the bulk of educational spending, will now be focussed on responding to citizens’ learning preferences as opposed to socio-economic development [although that will be achieved indirectly, thus validating public investment and international development aid]. Incorporating technology into the education sector involves high outlay and substantial training requirements – to be justified many times over by the satisfaction of all learners, as determined by them, and thus in pursuit of an equitable and well-educated world. Moreover, the transformed universal educational arrangements, notably self-directed learning and an adequately remunerated teaching profession, with AI mobilised in creative support, are affordable in a way that existing arrangements are not.

One final challenge: the author invites readers to improve upon his above list in readiness for its becoming the set of verifiable objectives for transformative AI-supported actions.


About the Author:

Mike Douse has been involved in international education since 1964, having worked in and for over sixty countries, mostly related to EU, WB, UNESCO and ILO educational programmes. Mike has been a professor in Ghana; sometime Headmaster of Kings School, Cardiff; foundation principal of a flagship science secondary school in Nigeria; National Director of Australia’s Disadvantaged Schools Programme; and involved with NORRAG since its earliest days. In addition to educational books and articles, Mike has published three collections of his poems:

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