UNESCO prepares teachers and learners for 21st century challenges


A Multistakeholder experts consultation  reviewed the emerging context and impacts of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on competencies for teachers at UNESCO Headquarters on 7 November 2019.

As advancement in AI influences societies by automatizing and inventing new opportunities and challenges, its role in Education has become increasingly relevant. Within its larger ecosystems, the use of AI can lead to complex new teaching situations, which necessitates developing a new understanding of its technical and conceptual aspects.  Not least, as the learning environment has also changed and includes new teaching tools and intelligent tutoring systems, understanding them will be an asset, if not a necessity for teachers.

A recent UNESCO commissioned paper entitled: A Report about Education, Training Teachers and Learning Artificial Intelligence: Overview of Key Issues identified five core questions to guide AI and education. The five pillars to guide Artificial Intelligence and education identified in the UNESCO commissioned paper are:  

  • data awareness or the capacity of building, manipulating, visualizing large amounts of data;
  • understanding randomness and accepting uncertainty or the ability to live in a world where models cease to be deterministic;
  • coding and computational thinking that foresee skills allowing each to create with code and to solve problems through algorithms;
  • Critical thinking as adapted to the digital society and finally a series of questions amounting to understand our own humanity in view of the changes AI induces;
  • Reconsidering key concepts such as intelligence, experience, creativity, ‘the truth’.

The Expert discussion linked these five key pillars to the  ICT competencies, which teachers should aspire in the ICT Competency Framework Version 3.

The debates highlighted that the development of the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development has underscored a prevalent global shift towards the building of inclusive Knowledge Societies.  The importance of media and information literacy was also underscored especially as it relates to the advancing critical thinking and understanding a changing world particularly withinin the larger schema of 4th Industrial Revolution.

The discussions reiterated the need to provide specific attention to Africa, which has been ranked lowest in recently published Government AI Readiness Index but with remarkable opportunities to further AI competencies. The importance of closing gender divide in digital skills through education was also highlighted, in view of the recent UNESCO publication, I’d blush if I could, which provided a stong rationale for interventions, and maked recommendations to help women and girls develop strong digital skills.

This meeting forms part of UNESCO’s efforts to respond to the need to provide digital skills in education and training systems along with core competences, new mindsets and attitudes that build up a society’s capabilities to innovate. The Information for All Programme (IFAP) of UNESCO contributed to the discussion and affirmed its intentions to use the outcome of the meeting to pilot innovative policies to promote emerging technologies for Knowledge Societies.