The Sunday News
I recently had the privilege of attending a mini-conference that delved into the future of education and I was struck by the urgency and relevance of the discussions surrounding the profound impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and technology on our learning systems.
The central theme that echoed in one of the presentations was the realisation that our traditional education paradigms are facing a critical juncture.
With machines, robots, and AI becoming increasingly proficient in various domains, we find ourselves at a crossroads where we must rethink the skills and knowledge we prioritise in our curriculum.
In this digital age, where information is at our fingertips and algorithms can outperform humans in tasks previously considered quintessentially human, there arises a pressing need to identify and cultivate skills that machines cannot replicate.
While AI can process data, analyse patterns, and even generate text, it lacks (at least for now) the essence of humanity – the qualities that make us uniquely human.
The ability to empathise, connect, and tell stories is inherently human, and it’s here that our educational focus should shift. For example, because our till operators, for whatever reasons, do not show emotion or care, it is clear that they will be replaced by robots.
Our curriculum must therefore be redesigned to nurture compassion, emotional intelligence, and effective communication, recognising that these are the traits that will set us apart from machines, and promote jobs that will not be easily replaced by machines.
With rapid technological advancements, ethical considerations also come to the forefront. Issues around genetic engineering and production of, say meat for human consumption, from a human cell, come to mind.
Our curriculum should therefore cultivate a deep sense of ethics, guiding learners to distinguish right from wrong and encouraging them to explore the values that underpin different cultures and societies.
Questions about who defines societal ethics and values should be dissected; what should be the role of global organisations like the United Nations, on issues to deal with ethics, the role of religion and how it should be an integral part of our curriculum. In a world with a plethora of religions, now available at the click of a button, what could be the role of the education system and of course that of parents in promoting ethics?
Critical thinking and media literacy are skills that have become paramount in today’s information landscape. We must prepare our learners to navigate the vast sea of information on the internet, helping them discern fact from fiction and understand the motives behind media content. In the pre-modern era, young lives were shaped by their family and local community but with industrialisation and the growth of print and broadcast media; newspapers, magazines, the radio and indeed the television took over the role of socialisation. Today social media platforms are at the core of socialisation and dictating the trends and what life means.
For that reason, our education should address media and digital literacy. Educators and parents share the responsibility of shaping responsible digital citizens or “netizens” who are able to make informed, ethical decisions regardless of what the various noises from social media dictate.
Creativity is another trait that artificial intelligence cannot replicate. Schools should create environments where students can experience and embrace creativity, not just as an abstract concept but as a practical skill that they carry with them into work life. Interdisciplinary learning, akin to the renaissance ideal of “jacks of all trades,” equips learners to understand a multitude of subjects, nurturing versatility and adaptability in a world where change is constant.
Adaptability is a quality that must be cultivated in learners as the future is unpredictable, and the ability to improvise, learn from failure, and bounce back is crucial. While not everyone may become an entrepreneur, an entrepreneurial mind set – the ability to chart one’s own path, think innovatively, and adapt to shifting career landscapes – is indispensable.
Moreover, we must accentuate the importance of understanding technology itself. In an era where technology shapes our lives and defines our future, it’s imperative that we demystify the workings of these tools.
We need to equip our learners with not just the ability to use these technologies but also the understanding of how they are developed and the impact it can have on society. Furthermore, encouraging diversity in the building of technology will cater for the needs of all segments of our population, a vital step towards a more inclusive future.
Currently, global technologies are dominated by young, mostly American and Chinese men hence these technologies are premised on their world view. It is incumbent upon Zimbabwe and of course the rest of the developing world to invent, adopt and adapt various technologies that are appropriate to these societies and this can only happen when a strong STEM foundation is laid in our education system.
Lastly, as we traverse the ever-evolving landscape of education, we must not forget the importance of holistic well-being. Self-knowledge, mental health, and physical well-being should be at the core of our curriculum, as a healthy mind and body are the foundations upon which all other skills and knowledge are built. It is essential that we empower learners with the knowledge and tools to prioritise their physical and mental health. Teaching them the value of self-care, stress management, and mindfulness can instil lifelong habits that enable them to navigate life’s challenges with resilience and vitality without resorting to destructive behaviours such as drug abuse and even suicide.
The future of education is not about competing with machines but complementing them with the distinctly human qualities that define us. It’s about preparing learners to thrive in a world where change is constant, and adaptability is key. The curriculum should be reimagined to prioritise these essential skills and qualities, that equip the future workforce to face the challenges and opportunities of the future with confidence and resilience.
*Jobert Ngwenya is an award winning educator, Fulbright TEA Fellow, National Geographic Education Grantee, Citizenship Diplomacy Action Fund grantee, author, and academic audio content creator. He holds a Master of Arts in Development Studies (MSU) Bachelor of Arts (UZ) and Post Graduate Diploma in Education (ZOU). He can be contacted by email on [email protected]