With the rise of Artificial Intelligence and the maturation of digital technologies, we are at the dawn of a new era. We are living a historical moment, facing daunting challenges with a profound mutation of the way we live, work and exist as a society. We are still unaware of the long-term effects of this revolution, which will impact all countries and all professional sectors. What is certain is that in this context, education is the strategic sector that will decide the destiny of our collective civilization.
AI in Education and Guidance
Education in the 21st century — in which AI is expected to provide future generations with great potential benefits — opens up new opportunities by enabling a large number of individuals to learn in a personalized way.
Due to the high risk of obsolescence of skills and automation of more or less complex tasks in the future world of work, it is imperative that educational innovations at all ages and at all levels of qualification propose adaptive learning paths which would better fit the profiles of the learners.
However, it is important to say that without real actions promoting social equality and opportunities for all, a large amount of people not having access to these new technologies would be completely excluded from the working context of the future.
Addressing this is extremely important in order to foster inclusive growth and give everyone a chance to succeed as a worker, but most of all as a citizen.
Educational and career guidance becomes a central matter, especially as career trajectories become less and less linear and entire professional sectors are being transformed with the destruction and creation of new jobs.
Fight against Inequalities
Today there are strong inequalities in the access young people have to a quality information about college and career opportunities. For instance, in France each year almost 100,000 young people leave the education system without any degree and more than half of the students change their mind after their first year at university.
Young people unfortunately have a restricted view of all the possibilities that open up to them in the 21st century, with their parents often playing an important role in planning their future. When they get to college, students realize that the degree they chose by default is not as engaging as they thought. Last but not the least, the majority of them do not have a qualified personal network to help them choose the degree that fits best with their aptitudes and talents.
As a consequence, bad guidance leads to important negative externalities: a high social cost for youth and families, a high cost for universities and a lack of future talent pool in the job market. In this context, the most vulnerable social groups and families (living in difficult neighborhoods, single-parent families) are those who are the most affected by exclusion dynamics.
At least in France, until today — the ongoing reform of the high school system is hopefully bringing new encouraging solutions — ‘low performing’ students have been quickly assigned to narrow educational paths, particularly oriented towards vocational education, with very few opportunities arising from it. Moreover, for those trying their chances at pursuing long-term studies while coming from a vocational education path, dropout risks are very high.
Indeed, we face a significant paradox: there are a very large number of vocational degrees and jobs that struggle to find young people willing to pursue these paths. This is especially true in some professional sectors that often suffer from bad reputation and sometimes difficult working conditions. However, the question is: before a “social demand” for families who aspire for a better future for their children (this applies in particular to parents coming from more humble social categories), is it fair to guide — more often oblige — young people towards these pathways by default? What are the risks?
Risks and Opportunities
New AI-based guidance services are being introduced to help people build a personalized orientation path based on skills, aspirations, values and interests.
It is important to ensure that these services do not reproduce any discriminating biases and fight against all forms of social determinism.
Since academic and professional ambitions are often highly influenced by our social, economic and cultural environment, it is important to ensure that these guidance services do not reinforce these biases by suggesting paths purely based on statistical and “neutral” outputs. They should be capable to take into account several factors (for instance, gender and geographical provenance, psychometric features, emotional intelligence, etc.) putting the people at the very middle of their guidance process.
The need of an open ecosystem
I personally think that AI solutions are to be meant as tools to leverage the action of real humans acting on the field, not to substitute them. This is why, to respond to this major challenge, it is urgent to establish an open ecosystem of public and private guidance actors, schools, universities and companies working together through a coherent connectable pool of open and meta-data, catalyzing more responsible and aware learning and professional choices.
It is specifically at local or regional level that communities have the power to offer qualified information on job and educational opportunities. We should also encourage every stakeholder to promote educational and career paths more oriented towards sustainable development solutions, creating new aspirations through inspirational positive impact examples.
Empowering youth and families towards a more inclusive and sustainable world is a collective challenge. It is not easy, but it is necessary. Let’s get to work together!