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[Future Report] Education and Learning

Challenge 9. How can education and learning make humanity more intelligent, knowledgeable, and wise enough to address its global challenges?

(c) 2021 The Millennium Project

Brief Overview

Artificial Intelligence will augment human intelligence. It will diagnose the best ways for you to learn and what you should, need, and/or want to learn. Just as glasses augment our eyes to see better, we will augment our brains to become augmented geniuses; Neuralink is connection neurons to computers. Several companies are testing smart contact lenses and augmented-reality glasses to connect to the IoT. This should speed learning, reduce miscommunications, and make education far more interesting. Internet search engines are reinforcing curiously and life-long learning. Massive educational resources aided by AI are supporting teachers and students worldwide. UNESCO is working with curriculum developers to integrate AI in all schools. Much of the world’s knowledge is available—either directly or through intermediaries—to the majority of humanity today via many forms of online education. Google and Wikipedia are helping to make the phrase “I don’t know” obsolete. Free online, self-paced courses proliferate on everything from synthetic biology to elementary arithmetic. The Covid pandemic has accelerated tele-education and learning. Starlink is expected to complete global access to the Internet for everyone on the planet. The price of laptops and smart phones continues to fall, and IoT with data analytics gives real-time precision intelligence. However, much greater attention is needed to successfully apply all these resources to develop wisdom, rather than information pollution and social polarization. Low-cost AI, robotics, and other NTs (next technologies) will lead to the replacement of most repetitive human labor; thus, education and learning should focus more on creativity, problem solving, entrepreneurship, and increasing intelligence. Cognitive/neuroscience and related research has shown that brain performance can be improved by 1) responding to feedback; 2) providing consistency of love and social-emotional support within a diversity of environments; 3) nutrition; 4) reasoning exercises; 5) the belief it is possible (placebo effect); 6) personal contact with intelligent people or via VR simulations; 7) responsible use of software systems and gaming; 8) neuro-pharmacology (enhanced brain chemistry), 9) memes on classroom walls and elsewhere (e.g., intelligence is sexy); and 10) sufficient sleep, low-stress, stimulating environments, with certain music, colors, and fragrances, improves concentration and performance. Longer-term future approaches to improving brain performance include reverse engineering the brain such as national brain projects in the U.S., EU, China, and others; applied epigenetics and genetic engineering; and microbes via synthetic biology to eat the plaque on neurons of the elderly. Age-related memory loss can be improved by exercise, learning new skills, TET1 to repair myelin, nutrition, and others on the way. Google Brain, IBM’s Watson, DeepMind, and other AI efforts are intended to augment human intelligence. To speed up learning applications of advances in cognitive science and brain research, Ministries of Education should declare increasing intelligence as a national goal of education.

Meanwhile, innovations are occurring inside and outside of classrooms across the world. Finland plans to use an interdisciplinary approach to teach events and phenomena instead of subjects. China plans to make 3D printers available in its 400,000 elementary schools in two years. South Korea uses telepresence robots with remote native speakers to teach English. Dubai uses 3D glasses, holograms, and VR for immersive learning. Advances in cognitive science research should inform teaching strategies. Curriculum design can give frequent ungraded assessments; allow student opportunities to reflect on learning/performance; teach students to self-test when studying (simply re-reading notes hurts student long-term learning); emphasize the importance of sleep in learning/memory consolidation; make sure students understand their ability to improve their own brains (neuroplasticity and placebo effect); give students opportunities for choice in learning (enhances engagement/intrinsic motivation); make sure students and teachers understand the effects of stress, fear, and fatigue on higher-order reasoning and memory; allow opportunities to transfer learning through visual/performing arts; help students understand the role of brain anatomy in learning; use immersive virtual and augmented reality devices; allow frequent opportunities to play; enhance experiences of freedom; and increase teachers’ digital competences. Youth literacy rates have improved from 83.4% in 1990 to 91.9% in 2020.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have enrolled 220 million students in 950 universities offering nearly 20 thousand courses over the past decade (data not including China); 40 million new students signed up for at least one MOOC in 2021.

Because technological capacities available to the individual will be far more powerful than in the past, increased attention has to be given to ethics, values, citizen responsibilities, and noble behavior. And because humanity is becoming far more connected and globalized, special attention should be given to world and macro history, while learning one’s own culture and civilization. Actions to Address Global Challenge 9:

  • Make increasing individual and collective intelligence national objectives of education.

  • Promote online life-long learning in anticipation of aging societies and technological change.

  • Increase R&D funding of AI-human symbiotic evolution.

  • In parallel to STEM education, create self-paced inquiry-based learning for self-actualization that increased focus on developing creativity, critical thinking, human relations, social-emotional abilities, philosophy, entrepreneurship, art, self-employment, ethics, and values (STEAM education, adding A for the Arts).

  • Begin shift from mastering a profession to mastering combinations of skills.

  • Teacher training schools should show how different teaching strategies affect neural activity of students’ brains via fMRI and/or other means as they teach.

  • Explore alternative models of education and learning (both Finland and South Korea score top in the world but have quite different systems).

  • Implement insights from the Global Learning XPrize for children to teach themselves basic reading, writing, and arithmetic within 18 months.

  • Give special attention to addressing knowledge/intelligence gaps created as advanced learning technologies are initially used by the few.

Short Overview and Regional Considerations

Much of the world’s knowledge is available – either directly or through intermediaries – to the majority of humanity today. Google and Wikipedia are helping to make the phrase “I don’t know” obsolete. The Internet is reinforcing curiosity and life-long learning. The ideal of excellent curricula and excellent teachers being available to anyone at anytime is a possibility within sight. Increasing numbers of university courses (over 6,000 now) are freely available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection. MOOCs (massive open online courses) are accessed directly from universities or through intermediaries like Coursera and edX. Learning systems independent of universities like TED and the Kahn Academy are also proliferating. A team led by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook is dedicated to getting everyone on the planet connected to the Internet, as is Google’s Loon Project to create a network of high-altitude balloons for universal Internet access. The price of laptops and smart phones continues to fall. However, successfully applying all these resources for better learning around the world requires much greater effort to distribute these capabilities and adapt them to cultures.

Fundamental changes in education and learning will be critical as low cost universal artificial intelligence, robotics, and other technologies will transform the nature of work over the next generation on two. Some believe without fundamental changes in education and learning, the world could face 50% technological unemployment by 2050. If intelligent technology will replace most repetitive human labor, then many argue education and learning should just focus on creativity, problem solving, entrepreneurship, tolerance, compassion, and increasing intelligence. In the meantime, since technical requirements for work are increasing, then we need to dramatically increase our S&T, engineering, mathematical, and software programs.

Fortunately, the world is getting better educated, but slowly and there might not be enough teachers and classroom to complete global elementary education. To dramatically speed this up, a $15 million X-Prizewas created to development open source and scalable software for children anywhere in the world to teach themselves basic reading, writing and numeracy within 18 months. As of mid-2017, semi finalists have been selected and field tests are in preparation in Tanzania where 4,000 children in 150 villages will get computer tables.

According to UNESCO, youth literacy rates have improved from 83.4% in 1990 to approximately 92% in 2015; while adult (over 15 years old) literacy rates improved from 75.7% in 1990 to approximately 86% in 2015 (but still leaving 743 million adults illiterate). Pre-primary enrollment grew from 112 million in 1999 to 164 million in 2010. Primary school completion rates grew from 9.3% in 1999 to 90.3% in 2011. The percent of secondary school age children enrollment grew from 53% in 2000 to 62.5% in 2010. Enrollment of tertiary education grew from 19% in 2000 to about 30% in 2010. Nevertheless, about 71 million children of lower secondary school age are not in school. One in six children in low and middle income countries will not complete primary school in 2015. The attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistani by the Taliban underscores the struggle to get educational access for 28.5 million primary school age children in the world’s conflict zones today, according to UNESCO. Although the percent of children out of school has fallen, the number remains high due to population growth over the past decade and international aid to basic education has not kept pace.

The EU, US, China, Israel, and Japan have major research projects attempting to understand the brain. Future results could address brain diseases, improve brain functioning, lead to better computer designs, and create new brain-computer synergies. Advances in cognitive science should be integrated into teacher training and learning systems. Google Brain, IBM’s Watson, DeepMind, and other AI efforts are intended toaugment human intelligence. In addition to knowledge acquisition and socialization, Ministries of Education should declare increasing intelligence as a national goal of education, which could speed up learning applications of advances in cognitive science and brain research. Human IQ test scores have been increasing around the world for over fifty years (the Flynn Effect); the cause or whether humanity is getting more intelligent is not clear, but at least the scores are not going down.

The connection of computers and learning is dramatically changing. As Moore’s Law continues to be valid over the next decade or so, portable intelligent devices could have the processing power of the human brain. Individuals would access the world’s knowledge that has been integrated for “just-in-time knowledge and learning”, using simulations with immersive virtual reality interfaces adapted to individuals’ unique needs throughout their lives, along with online collaborative problem solving gaming among individuals around the world. Continuous evaluation of individual learning processes designed to prevent people from growing unstable and/or becoming mentally ill, along with programs aimed at eliminating prejudice and hate could bring about a more beautiful, loving world, which will become more necessary as increasingly destructive technologies become more available to individuals.In an increasingly globalize world respect and intercultural collaboration skills and attitudes will become increasingly important.

Brain functioning or intelligence could be increased by combinations of improved nutrition, reasoning exercises, believing that increasing intelligence is possible (placebo effect), responding to feedback, consistency of love coupled with diversity of environment, contact with intelligent people via Internet avatars, brain enhancement pharmaceuticals, software and games, memes (intelligence is sexy), and low stress, stimulating environments, with certain music, colors, and fragrances that improve concentration and performance. Insights from partial mapping of the human brain and other methods could dramatically increase personal intelligence and longevity. In the more remote future, brains may be genetically enhanced and designer bacteria via synthetic biology could repair brain damage and make the brain cells work more efficiently. With the use of public communications to reinforce the pursuit of knowledge and the use of these learning innovations and concepts, individual and collective intelligence of societies could be improved.

Advances throughout history have created gaps between early adapters who can afford future means of augmented intelligence initially at higher costs and those who are less able to afford such advances. Serious efforts will have to be made to prevent dangerous knowledge/intelligence gaps leading to unstable conditions. Policymakers should develop ways to encourage broad democratic usage of these new powers without letting their abuse by the few disadvantage the many. Future prejudices could emerge between those who are more technologically augmented and those less so. Over the last several years, the digital gap has begun to narrow, giving hope that greater decentralization, access, transparency, and proliferation of feedback mechanisms can address these concerns. As the learning market expands, the unit cost of technologies and learning designs should fall, reducing the time from wealthy early adopters to more universal access. By 2050 most of the world could become augmented geniuses, fundamentally changing education and learning systems as we know them today.

Regional Considerations

Sub-Saharan Africa: Africa is the only continent where more than half of parents are not able to help their children with homework due to illiteracy. Only 1% of national education budgets of most African governments are earmarked to address literacy. Hence, a successful XPrize for education to be delivered by 2019 could be very significant to Africa’s future. Although African school attendance has increased 33% since 1999, 43% of the world’s primary school-aged children out of school are in Africa. According to UNESCO, 38 % of African adults (some 153 millions) are illiterate and two-thirds of these are women. The region has the lowest literacy rates, with youth literacy rate at 70%, and average adult rate at 59% in 2011 (varying from 25% in Guinea to 94% in Equatorial Guinea). Two-thirds of illiterate Africans are women. Some 10 million youth drop-out of school per year in sub-Saharan Africa. Save the Children has proven that female drop-out rates are reduced in South Sudan when separate school sanitary facilities are put in for girls. In Nigeria, primary school completion among the poorest households actually fell from 35% in 2003 to 22% in 2013, according to UNESCO.

Iron-rich and protein foods have to be taken together to help young brains to develop; a key reason so many children in Africa get protein malnutrition is because the protein and iron-rich foods are often not mixed well with corn, millet, or cassava paste for young children whose hands are not developed enough to pick up both the starchy food and the higher protein and iron foods. Hence, pre-mixing these foods for children could help brain development. New applications of cognitive science and mobile technologies are needed to “catch up” with the OECD countries; Open Educational Resources for Africa is making content freely available without paying license fees and that can be adapted as needed and used on mobile phones.

Middle East and North Africa: According to Al Masah Capital Limited, the expenditure on education is now 3.8% of the GDP in Middle Eastern and North African countries and it is expected to continue to increase. Primary-age children out of school in the Arab world has fallen from 6.8 million in 2002 to 4.8 million in 2011; while their secondary school-age out of school fell from 4.9 million in 2002 to 3.8 million in 2011. At the secondary level, the number of out-school-of-school adolescents have fallen from 4.9 million to 3.8 million between 2002 and 2011. In Arab States the number of girls enrolled for every 100 boys increased from 87 in 1999 to 95 in 2012. According to theInstitute of International Education, the number of international Middle Eastern students coming to the US has more than tripled since 2000.

Asia and Oceania: Half the world’s illiterate adults live in South and West Asia; only 63% of this region’s adults are literate. However, East Asian and Pacific adults are 95% literate, and Central Asians are 100% literate, according to UNESCO collected data. Youth literacy rates were also highest in Central Asia (100%) and East Asia and the Pacific (99%). Youth literacy in South and West Asia is 81%. The percent of university age enrolled in higher education rose from 1.4% in 1978 to over 20% today. However, UNESCO reports that in South and West Asia there will be 76 literate women for every 100 literate men in 2015. Samsung Economic Research Institute says 70% of South Korean household spending in Seoul pays for private education of their children. Mintel Group research found that 90% of children in middle class families in China go to after-school fee-charging education programs and that 87% of Chinese parents are willing to pay for additional overseas education. China accounts for 31% of all international students in the USA 2013-2014 with India, and South Korea providing the next largest groups.

Europe: Finland plans to use an interdisciplinary approach to teach events and phenomena instead of subjects. Much of higher education is free or at very low cost in Europe. The EC has 17 million students in 4,000 higher education institutions who’s purpose and methods are being reviewed to anticipate a far more complex and changing future. The Knowledge Future report to the EC recommends the development of a open, participatory, integrated information system of research, innovation, and other EC-relevant knowledge as a tool for higher education, expert collaboration, and public participation in the policy process. The EU’s Institute for Prospective Technological Studies is leading the Open Educational Resources project in Europe (OEREU) on how to use Open Educational Resources and envision educational scenarios to 2030. Tele-education could help address the falling educational resources in rural areas due to fertility rates and urbanization.

Latin America: Argentina and Costa Rica invest 6.3% of their GDP in education – the largest investors in education in Latin America. Brazil’s educational spending is 5.8% of GDP, Mexico spends 5.2%, and Chile, Columbia, and Peru spends 4.5%, 4.4%, and 2.8% respectively of their GDP on education. Only 4% of those who complete higher education in the region come from a low income family. UNESCO is losing its influence in the region due to its shrinking budget. Over 800,000 “One Laptop per Child” have been distributed on South America. Uruguay has distributed half of these laptops (400,000) to every primary student and teacher in the country. Educational systems in more socialist countries prefer not to have international standards and testing, while those more market-oriented are seeking them. Free inquiry and pursuit of new insights and truth may be reduced by this ideological tug-of-war over the education of the next generation.

North America: Although increasing numbers of people are accessing MOOCs, a University of Pennsylvania study found only an average of 4% complete the courses; however, those who do complete learn with little additional infrastructure or capital expenses, and many more are just exploring the subject and being curious without any intention of completing the course. These numbers may change since the cost of conventional university education is high, leaving many graduates with high debts (US university student loan debt is over $1 trillion) and disappointing job perspectives. Efforts have begun to create an American Nationally Accredited MOOCs University. Because Canada has no national ministry of education, there is little national coordination between the number and qualifications of university graduates and the labor market needs. A recent US National Research Council report recommends more focus on testing students’ scientific reasoning and ability to design scientific experiments. The falling trend of US high school reading and math scores, as well as graduation rates between 2007 to 2000 has finally begun to improve between 2000 to 2010. However, international rankings of the U.S. remain low, compared to educational resources per student. State support for US higher education has fallen 23% since 2008. Nevertheless, the US continues attract students worldwide. According to the Institute of International Education, the enrollment of international students in the U.S. increased by 42% between 2008 and 2014.

A rating of 50 on the likelihood scale above would mean that there is a 50% chance the possibility will occur by 2030 in other words, it is just as likely to occur as not to occur. An assessment of how each possibility could turn out positively and negatively as well as who will help it to occur and who might hinder its occurrence is available available in the Global Futures Intelligence System.

Graphs expressing the global situation:

Literacy rate, adult total (% of people aged 15 and above)

Source: World Bank indicators, with Millennium Project compilation and forecast; graph from the 2015-16 State of the Future

Share of high-skilled employment (%)

Source: World Bank indicators, with Millennium Project compilation and forecast; graph from the 2015-16 State of the Future


Writer: The Millennium Project of USIA Council Member Jerome C. Glenn


NOTE: USIA People have their own views and opinions that are not necessarily the USIA, and vice versa.


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