The World Economic Forum Issues New Report on AI in Education

What impact will AI have on education?

A teacher working with AI under the WEF's new report

The World Economic Forum (WEF), the greatly influential international organization famous for its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, published a report this past weekend, “Shaping the Future of Learning: The Role of AI in Education 4.0.” The WEF issues reports on high-level topics of global concern—most notably climate change—and its views carry a lot of weight in thought leader circles. This 28-page report on the role of AI in education has a speculative tone but will likely shape international and national conversations and policymaking. Its overall message is that AI can have a powerful and positive impact on students and teachers.

I should make two notes before we dig into the report. First, the report operates on the assumption that the goal of education is to align young people with the future demands of the global economy—an assumption that will likely generate some pushback among librarians and other educators. Second, the report focuses on primary and secondary education. Its vision, however, will affect how we conceive of postsecondary education and pedagogy as well.

Below are the key arguments of the report.

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🧑‍🏫 AI won’t replace teachers but should replace certain tasks. 

The report acknowledges that teachers take on many administrative tasks that are not only prime for AI to handle but also keep teachers from focusing on the more rewarding aspects of their jobs. Indeed, this second half is key. The global teaching shortage, the report notes, is due, in part, to poor remuneration, which governments should treat with policy. But teaching might become a more attractive profession for people to move into or stay in if teachers can refocus their daily activities around engaging students and not, say, updating their gradebooks.  

Automating or expediting certain tasks with AI can support the human core of teaching by allowing educators with more time and energy to devote to curriculum development, relationship-building, and student motivation and needs. The goal, ultimately, isn’t to replace education with AI’s ability to disseminate endless and quick information. Teachers, in short, should not be worried about their job security, but should be upskilled to learn how to use AI to handle certain tasks and augment others. 

📊 AI can provide immediate, detailed feedback on learning. 

Standardized tests have controversially occupied the center of many education systems. They have a practical function: standardization helps educators grade a vast amount of student work quickly and provides useful benchmarks. AI will allow education systems to move away from standardization. It can offer quick, non-standardized assessments using teacher-given control sets (e.g., rubrics, examples). Faster assessment will allow teachers to respond more quickly to learning trends and give students more guidance on their performance. 

Interestingly, the report posits that such conditions would eliminate the need for sit-down exams altogether. Students’ learning would be constantly measured, and AI could turn the overwhelming amounts of data into legible reports for all stakeholders. 

♿️ AI can promote individualized, accessible learning. 

The report is a bit hard to pin down on its view of the teacher-student-AI relationship. At times, it seems to hinge on scenarios where teachers would use AI to create, say, a curriculum and then, applying their knowledge of the students’ individual and cultural needs, tailor it accordingly. The AI would play a background role. Other times the report seems to suggest, without affirming, that students would interact more directly with AI-based learning tools and interfaces and teachers would take on more of a tutor function in the classroom. Or at the very least, teachers would have more opportunities to interact with students individually because AI would handle certain student needs in the classroom. These cases have different implications and will certainly prompt conflicting feelings.  

Both, however, align with the report’s vision of AI as allowing greater one-on-one and personalized interaction. The more promising side to this transformation is that AI could easily adapt materials to fit the needs of students with different abilities and diverse backgrounds. 

🧠 AI integration into education will encourage greater digital literacy. 

The report makes clear the need for students to cultivate AI literacy specifically and digital literacy more broadly. Literacy goes beyond using digital/AI tools and includes knowing how they operate, what their shortcomings are, and how they should be governed within social and ethical systems. The report notes that, on the one hand, AI will likely be at the heart of the economy, society, and media in the future—perhaps in the medium term—but on the other, most people currently see major risks in AI systems and are skeptical of them. Digital and AI literacies will help negotiate this conflict. 

Closing thoughts 

I have refrained from editorializing throughout this summary, though I recognize that the WEF’s report offers a controversial vision for the future of education. Some items will be readily adopted, and others strongly resisted. But the value of this report is that it offers a potential roadmap for where policy might go, allowing educators, librarians, and students to consider how AI might impact education and how it should. 

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