U.S. Education Straggling in AI, Robotics Readiness

U.S. Education Straggling in AI, Robotics Readiness 

While business forges ahead with adoption of robotics and artificial intelligence, little engagement exists yet among industry, government and the education sector to help individuals prepare for workforce changes. This is particularly true for the United States, which is trailing other high-income countries, such as Germany, South Korea and Singapore, in how it's helping to prepare young people for the "automated workplace."

According to a study by a research group affiliated with The Economist magazine, "intelligent automation" is boosting the relevance of STEM skills as well as soft skills. However, just a few countries are investing in deep changes to school curricula or teacher training that will be useful in preparing future workers. The United States isn't ranked high among them.

"The Automation Readiness Index: Who is Ready for the Coming Wave of Automation?" produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, evaluates 25 countries' preparedness for new forms of intelligent automation. Using 52 indicators, the research measures the work done in three areas: education initiatives, innovation environment and labor market policies.

South Korea leads the way, with strong scoring in all three categories, whereas the United States comes in ninth. South Korea also tops the list for education policies, with a score of 87.5, compared to the United States' 62.5. Among the efforts that are relevant in education, leading countries are emphasizing work in several areas:

  • Teaching computational thinking and AI and robotics techniques; and
  • Improving the quality of learning through the use of AI and other advanced technologies;

They've also pushed forward on work that will be familiar to most U.S. educators:

  • Reforming teacher training and assessment to emphasize 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, communication and collaboration; and
  • Updating school curricula to embed soft skills into classwork.

According to the report, transformation of education "is a monumental challenge for even the most developed of countries, requiring big picture thinking among government, educators and businesses." While there's "plenty of thinking" going on, "very little planning or action" is taking place. As one expert Rose Luckin, a professor of learner-centered design at University College London, put it, "No one has gotten to grips with the required strategic planning for educational change in this context, and there is a dire need for it."

Of course, as another expert noted, the tricky part of developing policies is that the technology itself is still evolving and planning can't be "set in stone." "We're in a stage of experimentation, and I think it's going to take us a couple of decades to figure out which policies and approaches work and which don't," said James Bessen, an economist in the Boston University School of Law.

The report is openly available on the Economist Intelligence Unit Automation Readiness Index website.

  Education Policies: Ranks and Scores
87.5

South Korea

86.1

Estonia

84.7

Singapore

83.3

Germany

79.2

Canada

76.4

France

68.1

Japan

63.9

United Arab Emirates

62.5

United Kingdom

62.5

United States

59.7

Australia

58.3

Argentina

Source: "The Automation Readiness Index: Who is Ready for the Coming Wave of Automation?" produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.