How to Reform Basic Education for a Digital Future: Views from a Multistakeholder Group
In June 2018, in the city of Panamá, a parallel session was organized by the Internet Society during the international meeting of ICANN 62. This session had the aim of promoting a key discussion underlining our digital future: the impacts of technology and the Internet on future jobs.
This article is an outcome of the discussion carried out by a particularly diverse table of young people* from different stakeholder groups that choose the subject of “the future of education” as its central debate point.
The question that drove the debate was: what should basic education look like in the future? This inquiry originates from the fact that the mainstream method presently deployed across the world assumes memorization of information as the most substantial part of the learning experience.
Even schools that attempt diverging methodologies still need to invest in that route to some degree, as the selection processes of most universities and many job opportunities rely on some form of standardized testing.
A glaring problem with this approach, though, is that memorization is something that most machines are incredible at, while most humans can only hold on to a certain amount of information in a reliable manner.
So, why are we so focused on teaching the young how to excel at tasks that will inevitably end up being outsourced to machines in one way or another? This system almost works towards reinforcing the fear we have of being replaced by machines, rather than alleviating it.
With that in mind, one potential path to take is placing more emphasis on a curriculum that teaches and contributes towards the development of what could broadly be defined as Philosophy. Within this far-reaching subject matter lie concepts such as analysis, ethics, law, logic, politics, and other building blocks that assemble the skill we find to be the most necessary for the future of basic education: critical thinking.
Critical thinking is a toolset that enables the understanding of emergent technologies such as Artificial Intelligence as merely tools to achieve our development goals, seeing as the questions that machines set out to answer are invariably made by humans.
Even in a scenario in which a machine generates its own questions, those will still be based on the perception of the humans who code it and on the content of the organic datasets it learns its key concepts and language from.
Several other issues can also be helped along by incentivizing critical thinking. For example, the Internet is becoming so ubiquitous that the dichotomy between online and offline shows clear signs of deterioration. The digital is ceasing to be a layer on top of so-called real life, and is becoming as much a part of it as anything else.
The children born in the realm of the digital do not seem fully aware that online and offline life are one and the same, and that the consequences of what they do virtually are likely to reverberate in the flesh.
How to deliver all of this knowledge, though? The developing world still struggles with the challenge of achieving decent levels of literacy, but it seems more and more like there will be no time to catch up; the world keeps moving ahead at an accelerated pace.
One of the only logical strategies for developing countries is to prioritize digital literacy alongside what we normally understand as literacy. This means, of course, that there needs to be reasonable access to the Internet available, and this task is a collective undertaking that all stakeholders need to participate in to some degree.
In the midst of this competing processes of globalization and digitalization, it is important to remain attentive to the development of better and more efficient policies that are forward-thinking.
As stakeholders of varied specialties, those who are currently involved in global processes such as that of Internet Governance occupy a unique position that enables them to be in contact with diverse points of view and life experiences, and need to carry out more discussions such as these to enable actors to generate informed change within their own spheres of influence.
* The attendees were Salvador Camacho (Intellectual Property), Jennifer Chung (Domain Name industry), Mark Datysgeld (Commercial sector), Jelena Ozegovic (Country Code operator), Isarael Rosas (Government) and Martin Valent (Non-commercial sector).
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