Global Challenge 9

Challenge 9. How can education and learning make humanity more intelligent, knowledgeable, and wise enough to address its global challenges?

Brief Overview

Artificial Intelligence will augment human intelligence.  It will diagnose the best ways for you to learn and what you should, need, and/or want to learn. Just as glasses augment our eyes to see better, we will augment our brains to become augmented geniuses; Neuralink and others are connecting neurons to computers. Several companies are testing smart contact lenses and augmented-reality glasses to connect to the IoT. This should speed learning, reduce miscommunications, and make education far more interesting. AI in education is forecast to grow from $1 billion In 2018 to  more than $6 billion by 2025, and $30 billion by 2032, while e-learning is expected to surpass $370 billion by 2026. Internet search engines are reinforcing curiosity and life-long learning. Massive educational resources aided by AI are supporting teachers and students worldwide.  UNESCO is working with curriculum developers to integrate AI in all schools. Much of the world’s knowledge is available—either directly or through intermediaries—to the majority of humanity today via many forms of online education. 1265 universities offer free online courses and certification. Google, Wikipedia, and AI are helping to make the phrase “I don’t know” obsolete. Free online, self-paced courses proliferate on everything from synthetic biology to elementary arithmetic. Although Covid has temporarily decreased student performance, it has accelerated new programs in tele-education and learning. Starlink is expected to complete global access to the Internet for everyone on the planet. The price of laptops and smart phones continues to fall, and IoT with data analytics gives real-time precision intelligence. However, much greater attention is needed to successfully apply all these resources to develop wisdom, rather than information pollution and social polarization. And Sweden may set a new trend be returning to books and notetaking and away from computers. Low-cost AI, robotics, and other NTs (next technologies) will lead to the replacement of most repetitive human labor; thus, education and learning should focus more on creativity, problem solving, entrepreneurship, self-actualization, AI augmentation, compassion, and increasing intelligence. However, successfully applying all these resources for better learning around the world requires much greater effort to distribute these capabilities and adapt them to cultures.

Advances throughout history have created gaps between early adapters who can afford future means of augmented intelligence initially at higher costs and those who are less able to afford such advances. Serious efforts will have to be made to prevent dangerous knowledge/intelligence gaps leading to unstable conditions. Policymakers should develop ways to encourage broad democratic usage of these new powers without letting their abuse by the few disadvantage the many. Future prejudices could emerge between those who are more technologically augmented and those less so. Over the last several years, the digital gap has begun to narrow, giving hope that greater decentralization, access, transparency, and proliferation of feedback mechanisms can address these concerns. As the learning market expands, the unit cost of technologies and learning designs should fall, reducing the time from wealthy early adopters to more universal access. Continuous evaluation of individual learning processes designed to prevent people from growing unstable and/or becoming mentally ill, along with programs aimed at eliminating prejudice and hate could bring about a more beautiful, loving world, which will become more necessary as increasingly destructive technologies become more available to individuals.

Although the World Bank reports that youth (literacy rates have improved from 83.4% in 1990 to 93% in 2024, UNICEF reports that 64% of the world’s 10-year-olds cannot read and understand simple stories. Although research shows that pre-school programs positively affect later learning, only half the world’s children are enrolled in such programs. Cognitive/neuroscience and related research has shown that brain performance can be improved by: 1) responding to feedback; 2) providing consistency of love and social-emotional support within a diversity of environments; 3) nutrition; 4) reasoning exercises; 5) the belief it is possible (placebo effect); 6) personal contact with intelligent people or via VR simulations; 7) responsible use of software systems and gaming; 8) neuro-pharmacology (enhanced brain chemistry), 9) memes on classroom walls and elsewhere (e.g., intelligence is sexy); and 10) sufficient sleep, low-stress, stimulating environments, with certain music, colors, and fragrances, improves concentration and performance. Longer-term future approaches to improving brain performance include reverse engineering the brain such as national brain projects in the U.S., EU, China, and others; applied epigenetics and genetic engineering; and microbes via synthetic biology to eat the plaque on neurons of the elderly. Age-related memory loss can be improved by exercise, learning new skills,  TET1 to repair myelin, nutrition, and others on the way. Google Brain, IBM’s Watson, DeepMind, and other AI efforts are intended to augment human intelligence. To speed up learning applications of advances in cognitive science and brain research, Ministries of Education should declare increasing intelligence as a national goal of education. To dramatically speed early learning, a $15 million X-Prize was created to development open source and scalable software for children anywhere in the world to teach themselves basic reading, writing and numeracy within 18 months.

Meanwhile, innovations are occurring inside and outside of classrooms across the world. Finland uses an interdisciplinary approach to teach events and phenomena instead of subjects. China plans to make 3D printers available in its 400,000 elementary schools in two years. South Korea uses telepresence robots with remote native speakers to teach English. Dubai uses 3D glasses, holograms, and VR for immersive learning. Advances in cognitive science research should inform teaching strategies. Curriculum design can give frequent ungraded assessments; allow student opportunities to reflect on learning/performance; teach students to self-test when studying (simply re-reading notes hurts student long-term learning); emphasize the importance of sleep in learning/memory consolidation; make sure students understand their ability to improve their own brains (neuroplasticity and placebo effect); give students opportunities for choice in learning (enhances engagement/intrinsic motivation); make sure students and teachers understand the effects of stress, fear, and fatigue on higher-order reasoning and memory; allow opportunities to transfer learning through visual/performing arts; help students understand the role of brain anatomy in learning; use immersive virtual and augmented reality devices; allow frequent opportunities to play; enhance experiences of freedom; and increase teachers’ digital competences.

Tele-education is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, earning nearly $400 billion in 2022 and could grow to $1 trillion by 2032. About 50% of students worldwide have completed some form of online learning. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have enrolled 220 million students in 950 universities offering nearly 20 thousand courses over the past decade (data not including China); 40 million new students signed up for at least one MOOC in 2021. Learning systems independent of universities like TED and the Khan Academy are also proliferating.

Because technological capacities available to the individual will be far more powerful than in the past, increased attention has to be given to ethics, values, citizen responsibilities, and noble behavior. Improving education tends to improve democratic processes. And because humanity is becoming far more connected and globalized, special attention should be given to world and macro history, while learning one’s own culture and civilization.

 Actions to Address Global Challenge 9:

  • Make increasing individual and collective intelligence national objectives of education.
  • Promote online life-long learning in anticipation of aging societies and technological change.
  • Increase R&D funding of AI-human symbiotic evolution.
  • Produce personal AI assistants that identify and address learning needs harmoniously with one’s learning styles.
  • In parallel to STEM education, create self-paced inquiry-based learning for self-actualization that increased focus on developing creativity, critical thinking, human relations, social-emotional abilities, philosophy, entrepreneurship, art, self-employment, ethics, and values (STEAM education, adding A for the Arts).
  • Begin shift from mastering a profession to mastering combinations of skills.
  • Teacher training schools should show how different teaching strategies affect neural activity of students’ brains via fMRI and/or other means as they teach.
  • Explore alternative models of education and learning (both Finland and South Korea score top in the world but have quite different systems).
  • Implement insights from the Global Learning XPrize for children to teach themselves basic reading, writing, and arithmetic within 18 months.
  • Give special attention to addressing knowledge/intelligence gaps created as advanced learning technologies are initially used by the few.

Regional Considerations

Sub-Saharan Africa: Namibia, Sierra Leone, and Lesotho are the largest investors in education percent of GDP. Only 67% of girls complete primary education, compared to 77% of boys and 43% of girls complete lower secondary school compared to 46.1% of boys in 2020. More than a fifth of children aged 6-11 are out of school; a third aged 12-14 are not in school, and almost 60% aged 15-17 are not in school. Of those over 15 years old 33% are illiterate. Africa is the only continent where more than half of parents are not able to help their children with homework due to illiteracy. Average Sub-Sharan government per capita education spending in 2022 was $254.  Only 1% of national education budgets of most African governments are earmarked to address literacy. Hence, a successful XPrize for education could be very significant to Africa’s future. Although African school attendance has increased 33% since 1999, 43% of the world’s primary school-aged children out of school are in Africa. 34.7% of African adults (some 140 million) are illiterate and two-thirds of these are women. The region has the lowest literacy rates, with youth literacy rate at 70%, and average adult rate at 59% in 2011 (varying from 25% in Guinea to 94% in Equatorial Guinea). Two-thirds of illiterate Africans are women. Some 10 million youth drop-out of school per year in sub-Saharan Africa. Save the Children has proven that female drop-out rates are reduced in South Sudan when separate school sanitary facilities are put in for girls. In Nigeria, primary school completion among the poorest households actually fell from 35% in 2003 to 22% in 2013, according to UNESCO.

Iron-rich and protein foods have to be taken together to help young brains to develop; a key reason so many children in Africa get protein malnutrition is because the protein and iron-rich foods are often not mixed well with corn, millet, or cassava paste for young children whose hands are not developed enough to pick up both the starchy food and the higher protein and iron foods. Hence, pre-mixing these foods for children could help brain development. In 1990, nearly half of all children under five in the region were stunted due to malnutrition; this has fallen to 33.1% according to the most recent data in 2018. New applications of cognitive science and mobile technologies are needed to “catch up” with the OECD countries; Open Educational Resources for Africa is making content freely available without paying license fees and that can be adapted as needed and used on mobile phones.

Middle East and North Africa: Covid and conflicts have caused 100 million children to be out of school in the region; this has fallen to 12.3 million today. Nearly half of the region is under 24.  Illiteracy in the Arab states is 20.6%. Education is now 3.8% of the GDP in the region and is expected to continue to increase.

Asia and Oceania: Half the world’s illiterate adults live in South and West Asia. As of 2020 23% of South Asia is illiterate, while 4% of East Asia and the Pacific are illiterate. However, East Asian and Pacific adults are 95% literate, and Central Asians are 100% literate, according to UNESCO. Israel, Bhutan, and Kyrgyzstan are the largest investors in education as a percent of GDP in the Asia. Youth literacy rates were also highest in Central Asia (100%) and East Asia and the Pacific (99%). Youth literacy in South and West Asia is 81%. South Asia has the largest gender literacy gap with 79% of adult males vs. 62% of women. Parents in South Korea paid $19,671,410 (10.8% increase from 2021) for additional private education for their children; 78.3% of all South Korean school children receive this extra education. The percent of university age enrolled in higher education rose from 1.4% in 1978 to over 20% today. Mintel Group research found that 90% of children in middle class families in China go to after-school fee-charging education programs and that 87% of Chinese parents are willing to pay for additional overseas education. Tele-education earned over $60 billion in 2022.  China accounts for 30.6% of all international students in the USA 2021-2022 with India, and South Korea providing the next largest groups.

Europe41% of EU citizens age of 25-34 years have a college education in 2021, which is nearly free. The EU is implementing The Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027). Finland is using an interdisciplinary approach to teach phenomena instead of subjects. Much of higher education is free or at very low cost in Europe. The EU has 17 million students in 4,000 higher education institutions whose purpose and methods are being reviewed to anticipate a far more complex and changing future. The Knowledge Future report to the EC recommends the development of an open, participatory, integrated information system of research, innovation, and other EC-relevant knowledge as a tool for higher education, expert collaboration, and public participation in the policy process. Sweden, Belgium, and Denmark are the largest per GDP investors in education in the EU. The EU’s Institute for Prospective Technological Studies is leading the Open Educational Resources project in Europe (OEREU) on how to use Open Educational Resources and envision educational scenarios to 2030. Tele-education could help address the falling educational resources in rural areas due to fertility rates and urbanization.

Latin America and the Caribbean: The region is the most unequal in education in the world. About 45% of Latin American lack Internet access. Half of the region’s children are below mathematic stands and a third are under reading standards. 6.3% of the region is illiterate. Costa Rica, Honduras, and Argentina are the largest educational investors in Latin America. Brazil’s educational spending is 5.8% of GDP, Mexico spends 5.2%, and Chile, Columbia, and Peru spend 4.5%, 4.4%, and 2.8% respectively of their GDP on education. Only 4% of those who complete higher education in the region come from a low-income family. UNESCO is losing its influence in the region due to its shrinking budget. Covid distance education in Mexico was only accessed by about 60% of students. Over 800,000 “One Laptop per Child” have been distributed in South America. Uruguay has distributed half of these laptops (400,000) to every primary student and teacher in the country. Educational systems in more socialist countries prefer not to have international standards and testing, while those more market-oriented are seeking them. Free inquiry and pursuit of new insights and truth may be reduced by this ideological tug-of-war over the education of the next generation.

North America: Although increasing numbers of people are accessing MOOCs, 7-13% complete these courses; however, those who do complete learn with little additional infrastructure or capital expenses, and many more are just exploring the subject and being curious without any intention of completing the course. These numbers may change since the cost of conventional university education is high, leaving many graduates with high debts (US university student loan debt is over $1 trillion) and disappointing job perspectives. Efforts have begun to create an American Nationally Accredited MOOCs University. Because Canada has no national ministry of education, there is little national coordination between the number and qualifications of university graduates and the labor market needs. Canada has one of the highest percent of college bachelor’s degrees in OECD with 69.5% of women between 25 and 64 and men at 56%. A recent US National Research Council report recommends more focus on testing students’ scientific reasoning and ability to design scientific experiments. Only 85.1% of American completed high school in 2022. Some 19% of U.S. high school graduates are functionally illiterate, and 14% of adults cannot read above a basic level. US ranks 36th in literacy even though it as vast educational resources per student compared to other countries. Only 56% of black students aged 16 to 24 are likely to take a two – or four-year college course, compared with 66% of white students.  State support for US higher education has fallen 23% since 2008. Nevertheless, the US continues to attract students worldwide, having recovered from the sharp decreases during the coronavirus pandemic, the total number of international students at U.S. universities in 2022-23 was more than 1 million while new international students increased by 14% to 298,523 in 2022-23, exceeding pre-pandemic 2019-20 of 268,000.