Robotics & the rise in Artificial Intelligence: Preparing the next generation

Young Boy Dressed as Superhero at Beach During SunsetParents ask how to prepare their children for a world with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. Will there be enough jobs in the future?

Looking at the past gives us clues about the future. The world has created over a billion jobs that did not exist in the past, despite computerisation. This will happen again: new types of jobs will arise. But a word of caution: the coal miners who lost their jobs in the 1980s were not the people who became computer programmers in the 1990s.

If we can be confident new types of jobs will appear in the future, how do we prepare for the unknowable opportunities that lie ahead?

Our top priority as educators and parents must be to equip young minds with a positive flexible attitude and a growth mind-set.

Benjamin Barber, an eminent sociologist said, “I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong …I divide the world into learners and nonlearners”

In her excellent book “Mind-set” Carol S Dweck makes a distinction between “Fixed Mindset” and “Growth Mindset”. People with a Fixed Mindsets rigidly believe you are either clever, or you’re not. With this belief, they worry about making mistakes, thinking mistakes define them. They believe a mistake reflects their inability and their intelligence – and would rather conform and stay within their comfort zone. For people with this fixed belief, feedback is painful and they will become defensive. This has an imprisoning effect, which stunts growth and limits possibilities.

The opposite is found in people with a growth mind-set, where they believe ability is not fixed. Here, growth and development are both possible. A typical belief is “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. A child with this attitude will believe that each mistake is a step towards learning something new. The path from the known towards the unknown is one of adventure – it is a path of empowerment and discovery. There is an acceptance that hard work and effort are required to achieve something new. With this mindset, feedback is seen as something positive that can help you grow. The next generation needs this attitude, now more than ever. It is our duty to teach children to see the world this way, if we wish them to thrive and flourish in the future.

Practical Steps
On a simple note, we can start by thinking about the messages we give children when we speak to them. For example, if we say “You learned that so quickly! You’re so smart” it gives the message that learning quickly makes you smart which is good – and that learning slowly is a sign of not being smart.  It gives the impression that effort is not important. As an alternative, we could say “That picture has so many beautiful colours. Tell me about them”. This goes to the process of drawing – drawing is the result of effort, so asking about the colours is talking directly about the effort.

We wish we could give children confidence, simply by praising them and their talents. Sadly, this often back fires. It makes them feel uneasy as soon as they fail to achieve something or as soon as something seems to hard. The best thing we can do, is teach children to love the challenge, to be curious about mistakes and enjoy the effort of figuring it out. This cannot happen if we only praise “success”.

It is better to praise a child who has tried something and achieved an improvement, than to only praise a child who has achieved something with little effort. Repetition and mastery are both worthy qualities – but we also need children to try to achieve more than they can already. Effort and discovery need to be at the front of our minds as educators. We need to recognise this growth attitude to be able to nurture it.

The Montessori approach provides an environment which strongly supports the growth mindset. The Montessori ethos is child-centric where instead of being overly teacher-led, the child is encouraged to become self-sufficient. The pedagogical basis is that children want to learn, they want to reflect for themselves what works and what does not work and they want to practice over and over until they achieve their desired outcome. A Montessori practitioner will see each child’s desire and curiosity as a strength and seek to support the child.

The Montessori equipment also contains “self-correcting” materials, which allows a child to see for him/herself if something matches. Children will need to learn to see for themselves what works – to enable them to be confident in their own ability. The Montessori approach enables a child to believe they can figure things out on their own, even if they do not get it right the first time. This is one of the most vital life-skills.

The workplace will be vastly different in 20 years’ time. Children will need to be adaptable, open-minded, have a can-do attitude and be willing to have a go and figure things out for themselves. The human mind has limitless imagination and adaptability. Our job is to help children tap into that to become confident and adaptable, so that whatever life throws at them, they see it as an adventure ripe with possibilities.

By Philippe Fraser