Who is afraid of new Technologies in the classroom? The challenges of ICT and AI - speech at the 2nd European Education Summit

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Smart technologies and artificial intelligence are not just changing our phones, cars and homes; they are also transforming the way we think, we act, we communicate, we learn. 

Technologies in the classroom offer interactive tools that may increase engagement and active learning, tools that may render classroom teaching more dynamic and appealing to students. Educators can faster adjust teaching to the students’ needs; learning can become more spherical and effective, by collecting data from countless sources, with up-to-date information; assessment and results are easier to be extracted. Most importantly, technology in the classroom enhances digital literacy, a critical skill for the generations growing up in a digital world.

On the other hand, many fear that importing ICT and AI in education may distract students, severly hinder their communicative skills and human interaction, engage them into unreliable or even dangerous on-line networking. Furthermore, not all students or teachers are familiar with digital tools, a fact that could create multi-speed classes and disrupt the teaching process. 

During the next few minutes, I would like to focus on two themes: 1) Who is really afraid of new technologies in the classroom and 2) how can we effectively address such fears.

Teachers: Based on surveys, it appears that women and older teachers are less familiar withtechnological education tools. For example, Deloitte and IPSOS conducted the “2nd Survey of Schools: ICT in education” on behalf of the European Commission (2019) which showedthat male teachers feel more confident in coding and programming across all school levels compared to female teachers. 

Parents: A survey held by Microsoft and YouGov in the United States in 2018 indicated that 63% of parents are concerned about their kids using too much technology at home, but 86% of them believe that tech in school is helpful to their children’s education. The “2nd Survey of Schools: ICT in education” shows that 90% of the European parents believe that the use of ICT at school will potentially help their child find a job in the labour market. What parents fear the most is addiction to technology and lack of internet safety, not technology itself.

Students: They are the most positive group in using ICT and AI at school, aside of course from those who don’t have access to technological equipment due to poverty. I will refer again to the 2nd EU Survey, as it shows that while students are less confident than their teachers in basic tasks, such as producing a text file, they are more confident than their teachers in coding, developing applications, programs or robots. 

Policy makers: May fear the potential financial cost of new technological infrastructure; may fear the potential reaction of teachers when introducing new technologies in the classroom; may fear a potential leak of students’ personal data, for example while using on-line software networks. 

And of course, there is always fear of what the future holds. There is thus a widespread fearthat the rise of AI will lead to the replacement of human workers by machines and robots,feeding into a narrative that perceives technological progress as a threat rather than an opportunity.

Turning now to the second theme, how can these fears be addressed, in the benefit of the educational community and the society as a whole?

ICT and AI are not the future, they are already the present. And the new generations are born and raised in a digital world where using technology and coding is as essential as reading and writing. What the Governments should do is tackle the obstacles, respond to people’s concerns and offer solutions to existing problems.

More specifically, I suggest we should focus on:

• Educators’ training. It is, in my opinion, crucial to focus on the human capital of education, its people. In almost all education systems across Europe, top-level authorities support measures for the continuing professional development of teachers’ digital competences and skills. EU projects, actions, frameworks and programs such as the Digital Competence Framework for Educators, the eTwinning, the Digital education Action Plan etc. move towards such direction and should be even more supported.

• Digital intelligence. It is critical to teach our children not only to use technology, but also how to properly use it, in order to take advantage of its benefits and at the same time reduce its risks. An interesting article by the Founder and CEO of DQ Institute, suggests 8 different digital skills that compose digital intelligence. These are digital rights, literacy, communication, emotional intelligence, security, safety, use, and identity. All of them are analyzed in more specific sub-skills, as privacy, computational thinking, critical thinking, online collaboration, empathy, internetsecurity, freedom of speech and more.

• Equal access for all. No one should be left behind this digital revolution. STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) which is already important today, will be essential in the future. The prevalence of robots and automated systems will entail an increased need for engineers, technicians, and managers to build, maintain, and quality control the work performed by future mechanized labour force, but also an increased need for emotional intelligence and creativity skills that machines have yet to master.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We can definitely not predict the future, but we can shape it and prepare for it. Technology might make some people worry, but it can also greatly benefit students. If we equip our students with technological fluency, high-level knowledge and skills, and an agile mindsetthat embraces innovation, creativity, flexibility and critical thinking, our students will be in a position to face all challenges.

Thank you very much.