With the fourth industrial revolution well underway, AI increasingly ubiquitous in our lives, social media already always on, we urgently need a curriculum, a classroom, and an education system that ensures our young are safe, secure, and able to succeed.
Not only our young people, but all of us, need to be equipped with the skills and the tools to navigate this rapidly, radically developing world of humankind and ‘super’ technologies.
Plenty a page written, not least on AI, and fearful questions asking if it will kill us all before it takes all our jobs or vice versa.
It is for this reason, that I raised the issue in the House of Lords last week. I wanted to focus on what we can do to ensure human and technologies, act in concert, for the benefit of all. I asked the Government whether they plan to launch a commission to consider how the school curriculum may be updated to include (1) data literacy, (2) digital literacy, (3) financial literacy, and (4) character and resilience education.
Answering for the Government, Minister Barran responded that “the Government have no plans to launch a commission to review the curriculum.”
I believe this is a missed opportunity. The scale of the challenge, and indeed the opportunity, would seem to require such a step.
Minister Barran set out where those subjects are addressed in the existing curriculum:
“Data literacy is covered within mathematics, science, computing and geography; digital literacy within computing, and relationships, sex and health education; and financial literacy within citizenship and mathematics.”
“Relationships, sex and health education, and citizenship, directly support the development of character and resilience, and schools can reinforce personal development in other curriculum subjects and through their extracurricular enrichment offer.”
I am glad to hear these subjects are already in schools, and I’m sure they are making a difference, but my real question was – is this sufficient?
I put it to the Minister:
“If AI is to human intellect what steam was to human strength, your Lordships will see the extent of the issue. Steam literally changed time.
“This is just AI; when it is considered alongside the other emerging technologies, issues around data and privacy, the platforms and the approaching metaverse, is it not clear that it is high time to launch a commission to consider a complete overhaul of the curriculum?
“It should enable young people—ultimately, all people—to be safe, secure and successful, optimising the opportunity for human talent to lead technology.”
We are at such a moment in time, potentially changing us for the rest of time, do we have what we need to succeed?
The Minister thought so:
“I agree with Lord Holmes’ point about the importance of data and AI and how they may transform many aspects of our lives. The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear about our national commitment to be a leader in this space. There is a great deal of work going on across government but, in the interim, we are absolutely committed to elements within the curriculum that deliver on all the issues my noble friend raises.”
Lord Blunkett, a former Secretary of State for Education, however, agreed with me that more must be done…
“I think we all agree that there will be a point when the improvement and radical updating of the curriculum are needed. If that is to happen, putting in place the required backing for teachers to get support will be necessary.”
I was also grateful to Lord McNally for the support of the Liberal Democrats…
“These exchanges have already pinpointed the problem Lord Holmes is trying to highlight. The skills required by the next generation to understand and deal with new technologies are real and present now. Quite frankly, the list he put forward of skills to be acquired are beyond the reach of a single department, including the Department for Education. His idea of a commission, possibly sponsored by the Prime Minister, who has skills in this area, is now needed to avoid moving into another era when most of our population are ill-equipped to deal with the technologies serving them.”
So, still some work to be done to convince the Government that more – much more – needs to be done if we are to fully enable our young people. But with positive support coming from colleagues across the house I’m chalking it up as progress in the battle for hearts and minds on this essential issue and I certainly intend to keep pushing.
We need to be brave, like Beveridge, like Butler, courageous like Churchill. We need to connect, to collaborate to co-create and it surely must start, right now, with a Commission to consider the complete transformation of the curriculum.