Jointly reported by:
Ming Xuen Amelia 16740 Sr2A
Robert Boxwell 15100 Sr2A
Ir Prof Dr Ewe Hong Tat, President of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), gave a talk titled Education in the Era of AI and the Learning of the ‘Heart’ on 19 January 2020 in the Kuen Cheng High School auditorium. The approximately two-hour-long talk started at 2:30 p.m. and explored in detail how education had to adapt to the technological advancements of our age. The talk comprised two main themes, which were the two components of the talk’s title.
EDUCATION IN THE ERA OF AI
AI conveniences humanity in ways and the main reason AI accomplishes what it does is thanks to the data humans generate when they use the internet. Every Google search, every click on a link, and every video we watch on YouTube generates data that corporations can use to further improve the services they offer. These data points were generated in the past as well, but there was no way to process the data into usable information or valuable knowledge. However, the Fourth Industrial Revolution places heavy emphasis on the development of information technology, ostensibly shifting the foundations of the industry to solving problems of physical space to solving problems of digital space.
In the same vein, education needs to shift its focus in order to help the future generation of students face the days ahead. Rather than rote memorization, which is a task that machines can accomplish far better than any human can and that machines render completely obsolete thanks to the vastness of the information available on the internet, students should learn to develop critical thinking skills in order to draw their own conclusions about the world around them. Fundamentally important in achieving this is the presence of a growth mindset among students, a concept explored more deeply in the latter part of the talk.
Schools need students to show curiosity and interest in what is being taught. If students feel that what they are learning is useful and applicable in their lives, curiosity and interest will come about naturally. What complicates this is that the 21st-century educator faces the great challenge of determining what exactly will be useful and applicable to their students’ future lives; in essence, they must prepare their students for jobs that do not yet exist and using technologies that have yet to be invented, so they can solve problems that may or may not crop up in the future.
THE LEARNING OF THE ‘HEART’
The heart does not learn. It is a lump of muscle that pumps blood and keeps us alive. The ‘heart’, however, is the source of our passion for learning, it is what drives us to improve ourselves. The aforementioned concept of a growth mindset is expanded on in relation to the ‘heart’ — people with a growth mindset seek to better themselves out of an innate desire and belief that they have the ability to improve themselves. People with fixed mindsets are incapable of this. They generally view their capabilities as static and thus do not go out of their way to learn new things in the absence of outside pressure.
The education of the ‘heart’ also focuses on developing the human aspects of a student, rather than just focusing on academic scores. A particular emphasis is placed on the importance of empathy in the age of robots and AI — empathy is a quality imitable by any computer system, no matter how hi-tech.
A classroom of students should be treated like a bed of flowers in the early days of springtime — some flowers are already facing the sun proudly, letting their fragrance wafting through the air; some flowers are still hiding in their buds, waiting for the right set of circumstances to call them into bloom. Most importantly, schools should not forget that their ultimate goal is to improve their students’ skills and their character.
It was indeed a thought-provoking speech by Ir Prof Dr Ewe Hong Tat and also a fruitful day for all of the participants of the day event.