by David Wright
Like many of us tend to do, as the festive season faded and reality called (and my watch told me to take a walk), I began to ponder what might lie ahead for all of us in education this year. So, here are the trends that I both expect and hope to see in 2024.
Teaching Expertise First, AI Second
Through spending the past 30 years of my career at the intersection between technology and education, including formerly as Chair of the NSW Next Generation STEM Fund (GenSTEM), CEO of Rozetta Institute, Vice-President of Macquarie University, and advisor to CSIRO, I have come to understand the importance of synergy between technology and teaching practice.
One thing that will truly enable these two facets to sing from the same hymn sheet is using digitisation, and the data that comes with it, for schools to more effectively and easily understand their teaching efficacy. We’re already seeing teachers increasingly using real-time insights to understand student progress at any given time, track the performance of a class or cohort over time, and take action based on this. This is very much just the start when we consider the innovation and investment that is happening in AI.
According to Grand View Research, the global AI in education market size was valued at USD 1.82 billion in 2021 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 36.0% from 2022 to 2030. AI is already helping to automate and surface the right data and the right times, and prompting teachers to take data-informed, evidence-based action for their students. When I take a walk (yep, more walking is one of my 2024 resolutions), my watch adds the kilojoules to my move rings; think for example of how learning progress rings paired with AI-informed teaching strategies, lesson resources, and student activities will be a powerful enabler for teaching.
But don’t be misled, this will not replace or undermine the incredible expertise of teachers. In fact, it’s the opposite. Teachers will have unprecedented access to real-time formative and summative student data, along with suggested next learning steps or recommendations.
Just as a doctor can review rich patient data to make a diagnosis and treatment, teachers will continue to use their deep pedagogical knowledge, understanding of their students and their subject to make the multitude of daily professional judgments that enable student learning and development.
Time Back for Teachers, More Joy in Teaching
Grattan Institute reports just how time-poor teachers are. Many are left to fend for themselves, creating lessons from scratch and scouring the internet for teaching materials. Stress among teachers is high too. According to Mental Health Foundation Australia, more than 50 per cent of Australian teachers suffer from anxiety, and nearly one-fifth from depression. Many are so burned out they’re leaving their jobs, which is creating significant staff shortages for schools.
AI and automation can, and already are, giving teachers back time, and this will only increase with smarter more developed tools. For example, serving up a quality differentiated Maths activity that needs a quick check, rather than a teacher needing to start from scratch, will be a time saver. The UK Government in late 2023 invested GBP $2 million to develop AI-powered tools to reduce teacher workload, showing the potential leading markets are seeing the technology.
I believe there are clear synergies between AI technology in education and aviation. Autopilot was created to ease cognitive load on pilots and reduce human error. Despite initial fears, Autopilot has not replaced pilots – it has made them better. It has reduced cognitive load by providing intelligent timely information, giving breaks for pilots in low risk periods, optimising backend operations to improve efficiency, safety and passenger comfort, and automating things that pilots do not have time to do, or are technically infeasible for any person to do.
Like autopilot technology, edtech and automation within the education sector won’t replace the existing workforce. I believe it will make teachers, or I should say teaching, better; make it easier for new teachers to enter the profession; and extend the careers of experienced teachers by reducing stress and cognitive load over time.
My feeling is that the next step will be fully integrated AI-powered solutions, that are part of a teachers’ daily workflows and as ubiquitous as our current smartphones. Unit and lesson plans, instructional resources, differentiated activities and projects, data analysis and reporting, will all be served up to teachers to grab and use as needed.
This is the year we have to bring more joy back for teachers. Many of the teachers I speak to love their work, and are committed to making a positive difference in the lives of their students, but they’re exhausted. We’ve got to help bring a bit of joy back into their lives, and I believe more time is the best place to start.
Even More Focus on Skills and Competencies
There has been a shift in priority towards STEM from the Australian government, and schools are focusing on developing highly skilled and competent students to ensure they are achieving academically and are prepared for the future workforce.
Announced in the May 2023 Federal Budget, the Government will provide $128.5 million to fund 4,000 additional commencing university places over the next four years to deliver graduates from STEM and related disciplines, including professional engineering, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, and physics.
There are initiatives already taking off in this area at school level. Camberwell Girls Grammar School (CGGS), for example, has partnered with CS in Schools, an organisation providing coding resources for all secondary students, to introduce pseudocode into its VCE curriculum. Through professional development, CGGS educators have been upskilled by specialists from CS in Schools, enabling pseudocode to be seamlessly incorporated into the CGGS VCE curriculum in a purposeful and meaningful way.
CGGS Principal, Debbie Dunwoody, said, “These significant changes to Mathematical Methods and Specialist Mathematics subjects are seeing our students use the CAS calculator to write programs and solve complex problems using algorithmic and computational thinking”.
Context Will Continue to Evolve
Context is changing for the better in the Australian school curriculum. For example, the previous versions of the curriculum taught students as if they were in England in the 50s or earlier. The new curriculum deals with today’s context, in Australia, with local history.
In 2023, for example, it was announced that students will be taught about Indigenous Australians’ experience of European colonisation under a proposed overhaul to the mandatory content included in the year 7 to 10 history syllabus. In a draft syllabus released by NSW Education Standards Authority, a new unit on the era of colonisation would be introduced to deepen high school students’ knowledge about Aboriginal culture and past, and to present “a more balanced view” of Australian history.
While we have an extraordinarily long way to go in this regard, the move towards teaching within a framework of local context, that gives far more acknowledgement to Aboriginal history, is encouraging.
Expect the Unexpected?
Of course though, if nothing else, the last few years have taught us to expect the unexpected. For now, helping the education sector overcome its challenges is what gets me out of bed in the morning, and equally keeps me up at night. We have a truly brilliant ecosystem of talented teachers and students, across diverse and wonderful schools, with the right support, can thrive.
This year is looking to be a year of positive evolution, where honing skills and competencies, using data and digital tools to save teachers time and deliver further benefits to students, and further embedding local context and history into everyday learning, will have a bigger seat at the table.
David Wright is CEO at Edrolo, an organisation providing high-quality teaching resources for Year 7-12 teachers in Australia.