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The Global Search for Education: Knowledge in the Age of AI

“New and more innovative knowledge maps are now needed to help us navigate the complexities of our expanding landscape of knowledge.” — Charles Fadel

The Trivium and Quadrivium, medieval revival of classical Greek education theories, defined the seven liberal arts necessary as preparation for entering higher education: grammar, logic, rhetoric, astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, and music. Even today, the education disciplines identified since Greek times are still reflected in many education systems. Numerous disciplines and branches have since emerged, ranging from history to computer science…

Now comes the Information Age, bringing with it Big Data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence as well as visualization techniques that facilitate the learning of knowledge.

All this technology dramatically increased the amount of knowledge we could access and the speed at which we could generate answers to our questions.

“New and more innovative knowledge maps are now needed to help us navigate the complexities of our expanding landscape of knowledge,” says Charles Fadel. Fadel is the founder of the Center for Curriculum Redesign, which has been producing new knowledge maps that redesign knowledge standards from the ground up. “Understanding the interrelatedness of knowledge areas will help to uncover a logical and effective progression for learning that achieves deep understanding.”

Joining us in The Global Search for Education to talk about what students should learn in the age of AI is Charles Fadel, author of Four-Dimensional Education: The Competencies Learners Need to Succeed.

Charles, today students have the ability to look up anything. Technology that enables them to do this is also improving all the time. If I want to solve a math problem, I use my calculator, and if I want to write a report on the global effects of climate change, I pull out my mobile. How much of the data kids are being forced to memorize in school is now a waste of time?

The Greeks bemoaned the invention of the alphabet because people did not have to memorize the Iliad anymore. Anthropologists tell us that memorization is far more trained in populations that are illiterate or do not have access to books. So needing to memorize even less in an age of Search is a natural evolution.

However, there are also valid reasons for why some carefully curatedcontent will always be necessary. Firstly, Automaticity. It would be implausible for anyone to constantly look up words or simple multiplications – it just takes too long and breaks the thought process, very inefficiently. Secondly, Learning Progressions. A number of disciplines need a gradual progression towards expertise, and again, one cannot constantly look things up, this would be completely unworkable. Finally, Competencies (Skills, Character, Meta-Learning). Those cannot be developed in thin air as they need a base of (modernized, curated) knowledge to leverage.

Sometimes people will say “Google knows everything” and it is striking, but the reality is that for now, Google stores everything. Of course, with AI, what is emerging now is the ability to analyze a large number of specific problems and make predictions, so eventually, Google and similar companies will know a lot more than humans can about themselves!

If Child A has memorized the data in her head while Child B has to look up the answers, some might argue that Child A is smarter than Child B. I would argue that AI has leveled the playing field for Child A and Child B, particularly if Child B is digitally literate, creative and passionate about learning. What are your thoughts?

First, let’s not conflate memory with intelligence, which games like Jeopardy implicitly do. The fact that Child A memorized data does not mean they are “smarter” than Child B, even though memory implies a modicum of intelligence. Second, even Child B will need some level of content knowledge to be creative, etc. Again, this is not developed in thin air, per the conversation above.

So it is a false dichotomy to talk about Knowledge or Competencies (Skills/Character/Meta-learning), it has to be Knowledge (modernized, curated) and Competencies. We’d want children to both Know and Do, with creativity and curiosity.

Lastly, we need to identify the Essential Content and Core Concepts for each discipline – that’s what the curation effort must achieve so as to leave time and space for deepening the disciplines’ understanding anddeveloping competencies.

Given the impact of AI today and the advancements we expect by this time next year, when should school districts introduce open laptop examinations to allow students equal access to information and place emphasis on their thinking skills?

The question has more to do with Search algorithms than with AI, but regardless, real-life is open-book, and so should exams be alike. And yes, this will force students to actually understand their materials, provided the tests do more than multiple-choice trivialities, which by the way we find even at college levels for the sake of ease of grading.

What we need to test for is Transfer – the ability to use something we have learned in a completely different context. This has always been the goal of an Education, but now algorithms (search, AI) will allow us to focus on that goal even more, by “flipping the curriculum”.

Today, if a learner wants to do a deep dive into any specific subject, AI search allows her to do this outside of classroom time. What do you say to a history teacher who argues there’s no need to revise subject content in his classroom?

For all disciplines, not just History, we must strike the careful balance between “just-in-time, in context” vs “just-in-case”. Context matters to anchor the learning: in other words, real-world projects give immediaterelevance for the learning, which helps it to be absorbed. And yet projects can also be time-inefficient, so a healthy balance of didactic methods like lectures are still necessary. McKinsey has recently shown that today that ratio is about 25% projects, which should grow a bit more over time as education systems embed them better, with better teacher training.

Second, it should be perfectly fine for any student to do deep dives as they see fit, but again in balance: there are other competencies needed to becoming a more complete individual, and if one is ahead of the curve in a specific topic, it is of course very tempting to follow one’s passion. And at the same time, it is important to make sure that other competencies get developed too. So, balance and a discriminating mind matter.

Employers consider ethics, leadership, resilience, curiosity,mindfulness and courage as being of “very high” importance to preparing students for the workplace. How does your curriculum satisfy employers’ demands today and in the years ahead?

These Character qualities are essential for employers and life needs alike, and they have converged away from the false dichotomy of “employability or psycho-social needs.” A modern curriculum ensures that these qualities are developed deliberately, systematically, comprehensively, and demonstrably. This is achieved by matrixing them with the Knowledge dimension, meaning teaching Resilience via Mathematics, Mindfulness via History, etc. Employers have a mixed view and success as to how to assess these qualities, so it is a bit unfair that they would demand specificity they do not have. And it is also unfitting of school systems to lose relevance.

There is a significant gap between employers’ view of the preparation levels of students and the views of students and educators. The problem likely exists partly because of incorrect assumptions on both sides, but there are also valid deficiencies. What specific inadequacies are behind this gap? What system or process can be devised to resolve this issue?

On one side, employers are expecting too much and shirking their responsibility to bring up the level of their employees, expecting them to graduate 100% “ready to work” and having to spend nothing more than job-specific training at best. On the other side, educators have been tone-deaf to the needs of employers and society to educate broad and deep individuals, not merely ones that may go to college.

The anchoring of this problem comes from university entrance requirements (in the US, AP classes, etc.) and their associated assessments (SAT/ACT scores). They have for decades back-biased what is taught in schools, in a very self-serving manner – narrowly as a test of whether a student will succeed at university. It is time to deconstruct the requirements to broaden/deepen them to serve multiple stakeholders.

Thank you Charles.

For More Information.

(All photos are courtesy of CMRubinWorld)

C. M. Rubin and Charles Fadel

Join me and globally renowned thought leaders including Sir Michael Barber (UK), Dr. Michael Block (U.S.), Dr. Leon Botstein (U.S.), Professor Clay Christensen (U.S.), Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond (U.S.), Dr. MadhavChavan (India), Charles Fadel (U.S.), Professor Michael Fullan (Canada), Professor Howard Gardner (U.S.), Professor Andy Hargreaves (U.S.), Professor Yvonne Hellman (The Netherlands), Professor Kristin Helstad (Norway), Jean Hendrickson (U.S.), Professor Rose Hipkins (New Zealand), Professor Cornelia Hoogland (Canada), Honourable Jeff Johnson (Canada), Mme. Chantal Kaufmann (Belgium), Dr. EijaKauppinen (Finland), State Secretary TapioKosunen (Finland), Professor Dominique Lafontaine (Belgium), Professor Hugh Lauder (UK), Lord Ken Macdonald (UK), Professor Geoff Masters (Australia), Professor Barry McGaw (Australia), Shiv Nadar (India), Professor R. Natarajan (India), Dr. Pak Tee Ng (Singapore), Dr. Denise Pope (US), Sridhar Rajagopalan (India), Dr. Diane Ravitch (U.S.), Richard Wilson Riley (U.S.), Sir Ken Robinson (UK), Professor Pasi Sahlberg (Finland), Professor Manabu Sato (Japan), Andreas Schleicher (PISA, OECD), Dr. Anthony Seldon (UK), Dr. David Shaffer (U.S.), Dr. Kirsten Sivesind (Norway), Chancellor Stephen Spahn (U.S.), Yves Theze (LyceeFrancais U.S.), Professor Charles Ungerleider (Canada), Professor Tony Wagner (U.S.), Sir David Watson (UK), Professor Dylan Wiliam (UK), Dr. Mark Wormald (UK), Professor Theo Wubbels (The Netherlands), Professor Michael Young (UK), and Professor Minxuan Zhang (China) as they explore the big picture education questions that all nations face today.

The Global Search for Education Community Page

C. M. Rubin is the author of two widely read online series for which she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award, “The Global Search for Education” and “How Will We Read?” She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland, is the publisher of CMRubinWorld and is a Disruptor Foundation Fellow.

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