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Building a Brighter Tomorrow: Youth Perspectives on Education

How young people want schools to prepare them for success in the age of artificial intelligence (AI)

Linh Kim
October 23, 2023

During our Digital Leaders discussions this summer, we gathered insights from youth about thriving in a world transformed by AI. These discussions were further enriched by contributions from educators across Canada at TeacherCon, a virtual conference held in August 2023. This event, co-organized by Digital Moment and Canada Learning Code, focused on effective teaching methodologies for digital skills education. From techno-optimism to uncertainty, there was a wide range of opinions. As the new school year begins, we're exploring the perspectives of students and teachers on how to create a more meaningful and effective learning experience in the classroom as AI begins to reshape the way the world works.

Empowerment through knowledge: Demystifying AI

A resounding theme echoed by young people is the desire to understand the technology that is increasingly shaping their world. The pervasiveness of AI in all aspects of daily life is succinctly captured by Maya, a 16-year-old:

“There is not one kid that I know that doesn’t know what ChatGPT is.”

The development of AI has captured the curiosity of young people. But how this technology is developed and what it does with the information it gathers often remains a mystery.

Throughout our conversations with young people, there is a consistent call for comprehensive AI education in the school system. Young people want to understand how it's made, how it's being used today - and how it could change their future, transforming jobs and redefining the way the world works. Students are not satisfied with superficial knowledge; they want to engage with technology as informed participants, to question and challenge AI systems and processes, and to take action when these processes violate human rights. Young people are aware that there are risks associated with AI, including privacy, representation, copyright, and other ethical considerations. But to take action, they need to understand the fundamentals of AI and their role in its development, implementation, and regulation.

As 15-year-old Davide puts it:

“Schools should be adaptive, to be ready for whatever comes next. They should teach students how to be ready for the future, because we don't know what the future holds.... I think if humans created AI, humans should know how to always be one step ahead [of AI].”

Bring the world into the classroom: Emphasizing Global Events and Life Skills

Students want social issues to be part of their education. Concepts such as gender equality, climate change, and inequality resonate with them as they see how these issues have a global impact. By teaching frameworks such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals along with global news, advancing technology, or simply community concerns, schools can make a stronger connection between classroom material and the broader world, fostering a sense of responsibility, civic engagement, and digital citizenship in their students.

Educators and young people alike want life skills in the classroom. Throughout our conversations, both students and teachers identified empathy, communication, resilience, curiosity, and critical thinking as the most important future skills that will help students not only academically, but also personally and later professionally.

With the changing demands for new skills and the growing popularity of generative AI among students, there are strong calls to reform traditional teaching and assessment. Especially in essay writing, students are increasingly using generative AI tools to brainstorm, structure, and even write on their behalf. One student suggestion for effectively integrating AI tools into school is to delegate certain tasks to AI while focusing human resources on others. And while they recognize the value of AI-assisted education, young people stress that it should not replace humans. As 14-year-old Adem puts it:

“Teaching AI is important …. but students should not have AI replace them or talk for them. They need human interactions. They need to learn to communicate clearly and interact with other humans.”

Coding is literacy: Removing the Fear

Empowering students with resources and access to technology is vital. As Abdullah, a 17-year-old, puts it:

“[Similar to] knowing how to read was really important back in the days. Now you have to know how to code, how AI works.”

Facilitated experiences like Digital Moment’s Lunar Gateway Challenge or The Digital2030 Challenge offer continuous learning and growth. But providing opportunities for one student is not enough. We need to empower an entire generation of changemakers, so that each one can share ideas and grow alongside their peers. As one educator puts it:

“Innovation needs a cross-pollination of various perspectives.”

Hands-on engagement and collaboration increase instructional effectiveness and innovation. Teachers love collaborative group work because it gets students asking questions and working together.

Most importantly, educators want their students to understand the fundamentals of these new types of technologies. They want their students to understand computational thinking, coding, and the basics of becoming an informed digital citizen. For Neve and Joshua, 15 and 16 years old respectively, getting kids excited about coding early is about "removing the fear" out of the unknown.

Conclusion: Working Together to Build an Excellent Education System

In the intricate tapestry of education, the threads of student aspiration and teacher insight are critical to weaving a holistic learning experience that creates the fabric of a better future. By integrating emotional intelligence, life skills, and awareness of global issues with a deep understanding of digital skills like coding and AI literacy, we are paving the way for a generation of empowered and informed individuals.