The world over, schools are working to prepare students for the 20th century. Teacher training programmes are preparing teachers for the 20th century. Government ministers across the globe are fixated on exam benchmarks and accountability measures — for the 20th century.
Here in the 21st century, young people are still spending thirteen of their most impressionable and absorbent years honing their minds to do things that algorithms and AI will always do better. AI doesn’t get tired, doesn’t become unwell, doesn’t get emotional, and can process information far faster than any human brain.
Instead of using adult humans to teach young people to be like machines, we need to use AI-powered machines, guided by adult humans, to teach young people to be more fully human.
All of this is being perpetrated by good people who want to do their best but when you are in the middle of a revolution, it can be hard to understand what is going on.
We find ourselves at the start of the fourth education revolution.
Very roughly, the first happened five million years ago with the beginning of learning by watching and repeating. The second revolution, the beginning of organised learning in schools, happened some 5,000 years ago. The third revolution began roughly 500 years ago, made possible by the invention of the printing press. This was also the time of the great global expansion of universities.
We are living in the twilight years of that revolution. Our current era makes bountiful use of new technologies, but education remains fundamentally the same — students sitting in front of teachers and lecturers, preparing for tests and exams focused on a fixed curriculum on which their future progress will very largely depend.
Schools are still physical places where learning takes place for a few hours each day, for some 40 weeks a year. Just as in the 19th century, teachers, lecturers and books are the primary sources of knowledge. Teacher training is still fundamentally the same as when I went to King’s College London forty years ago.
Until it changes, radically, we will remain in a rut.
But it won’t be by the end of the decade.
Within 10 years, AI will be frighteningly good at communicating with us.
AI will help schools address chronic problems that have bedevilled the third education revolution, particularly in recent decades. Difficulty achieving social mobility can to a great extent be linked to the quality of teaching, particularly in the early years.
With the benefit of AI every student will receive high quality, personalised teaching, formative assessment and grading. The difficulty of finding an appropriate pace at which all students should progress in all subjects will increasingly be met by the technology, allowing every student to move individually.
Excessive stress and teacher workload, which technology never truly addressed in the third revolution model, will be mitigated when much of the heavy lifting, including preparation of lessons, marking and assessment, is taken over by AI.
This will be easier to achieve in STEM subjects than in the humanities, but AI, with virtual and augmented reality, offers extraordinary opportunities for deeper enjoyment and understanding of the humanities.
Mental health problems have been worsening amongst young people across the world, especially since Covid struck in 2020. One cause is that young people feel valued and validated by the school system solely based on their success at passing exams. Everywhere, schools are better at finding out what young people cannot do, then what they can. The self-esteem of the already vulnerable takes a huge hit. AI will personalise teaching and tutoring, helping children feel good about their learning, while freeing up time for teachers to spend more time caring for their students.
Finally, AI will help develop all types of intelligence, including creativity, interpersonal relationships and self-knowledge, character, and leadership capabilities. The word “educate” after all means to “lead out”, to develop all the talents that young people have, not just cognitive intelligence, on which school systems overwhelmingly focus.
We cannot rely on governments, legislatures, and certainly not EdTech companies, however benign their intentions, to provide the rules and frameworks for our young people. The teaching profession has to take the future into its own hands.
Only the profession itself will understand teaching, learning and young people.
I applaud the work of Nord Anglia Education, which is taking an important lead in the way in which AI can best be utilised in schools, and teacher training.
We need champions everywhere if we are to win this race.
Images in this article were created by AI (MidJourney).
Sir Anthony Seldon is a leading contemporary historian, educationalist, commentator and political author. He was a transformative head of Brighton College and Wellington College, and now Epsom College, and before that, he was Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham. He is author or editor of over 50 books on contemporary history, politics and education, including the inside books on the last six British Prime Ministers. He was the co-founder and first director of the Institute for Contemporary British History, is co-founder of Action for Happiness, and was honorary historical adviser to 10 Downing Street. He wrote “The Fourth Education Revolution” about the impact of AI on education, and has helped found the Bourne Epsom Protocol to help schools and colleges understand how AI can be optimally used.