Preparing Australian children for the rise of the machines

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  • The rise of AI isn’t a reason to panic.
  • A major report on education says so-called generic 21st century problem-solving skills for chidlren aren’t the solution to increasing technology.
  • The report, Preparing for the Best and the Worst of Times, describes Australia’s education system as very good.

A major report on education in a world disrupted by artificial intelligence (AI) and other forms of new technology dismisses suggestions that school children need to be provided with so-called generic 21st century problem-solving skills.

The report, Preparing for the Best and the Worst of Times, describes Australia’s education system as very good but says that the system requires constant evaluation and debate.

It also calls on educators to provide children with “a strong learning disposition” and for the academic and vocational arms of education to work more closely together.

“We need new education settlements where employers are part of the deal,” says the University of Sydney Business School’s Professor John Buchanan.

“We should see the role of employers in education as a public good. Workplaces are powerful sites for learning.”

The report was commissioned by the NSW Department of Education and produced by the University of Sydney’s Sydney Policy Lab.

The research team acknowledges that there has been a “moral panic” about AI and that this is generating unnecessary apprehension and fear in society.

Professor Buchanan says AI has already been used as an excuse cut jobs.

However, he says technological change is usually for the good, depending on how it was handled.

“It is sometimes argued that because of the disruption caused by AI we have got to give school children 21st century skills such as creativity, collaborative capacity and financial literacy IT literacy,” says Professor Buchanan.

“The idea that very young people can acquire generic skills in the abstract is totally unhelpful.

“In our view, if you want to solve problems, you become skilled in a specific area of interest and then learn to solve problems in your area.

“Someone with really good problem solving skills and works in a childcare centre is going to be no good on an oil rig when a fire breaks out. Equally, a mining engineer who can handle a fire on an oil rig would have a nightmare trying to manage a child care centre.”

A child starting kindergarten last year will spend much of their working lives in the second half of the 21st century.

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