Future of Education? WEF’s Vision — Heavy on Virtual Reality and AI Technologies, Light on Privacy Concerns

Leveraging the metaverse wasn’t the only topic on the agenda at this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting — the future of education, as envisioned by the meeting’s participants, also prominently figured in the meetings last month in Davos, Switzerland.

The WEF held several sessions on education, including “Growing Up in the Pandemic” and “Restating the Economic Case for Education.”

The theme coming out of this year’s meeting, in relation to education, is the sense of urgency in “reimagining” education, whose future — as imagined by WEF stakeholders — includes a heavy dose of virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

While participants touted the purported economic benefits that would accompany the adoption of these technologies in the classroom, they had little to say about the need to protect children’s data or digital identities — or, for that matter, providing the types of early-life experiences children require as part of their socialization.

WEF touts new education-related initiatives

According to the WEF, “investing broadly” in the “skills of the future” may “add an additional $8.3 trillion in increased productivity to the global economy by 2030.”

This economic incentive appears to underlie the WEF’s “Reskilling Revolution” initiative, first introduced in 2020, and which brings together “50 CEOs, 25 ministers and 350 organizations committed to realizing these gains for their economies, societies and organizations.”

The aim of “Reskilling Revolution” initiative is to:

“…inspire large-scale global systems change across the skills and education agendas by demonstrating, in a tangible way, how progress can be achieved on highly complex and intractable issues by reframing and piloting new models and templates for action; accelerating vehicles for coordinating and funding collective action at scale; and strategically raising the bar on what credible business leadership commitment on reskilling, upskilling and education transformation looks like.”

The WEF claims its “work will benefit over 100 million workers on their journey towards reaching 1 billion people by 2030 with better education, skills and economic opportunity.”

What is the impetus for this initiative?

According to the WEF, it’s the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” which is “creating demand for millions of new jobs, with vast opportunities for fulfilling people’s aspirations and potential,” but which is being held back by “unequal opportunity, job displacement and widening inequality,” including in schools.

The WEF argued:

“With societal unrest on the rise across much of the industrialized and emerging world, labour markets in flux from the fallout of the pandemic, technological disruption and the green transition, collaboration between the public and private sectors can advance an entirely different agenda, where people’s futures and global economic prospects are enhanced by mobilizing worldwide mass action on reskilling, upskilling and education transformation.”

The “Reskilling Revolution” initiative encompasses three components: 1) “connecting action and thought leaders;” 2) “inspiring the next generation of bold business leadership commitment on the human capital investment agenda;” and 3) developing “innovative pilots for action at national, industry, organizational and school levels.”

The initiative has already led to the launch of “accelerators” in 12 countries, and the mobilization of “a multistakeholder community of over 350 organizations.”

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At this year’s WEF meeting, the Education 4.0 Alliance was added to this initiative, as part of the WEF’s broader New Economy and Social Platform, in an effort to “expand beyond adult reskilling and upskilling and integrate a focus on education for children and youth.”

Specifically, the three main objectives of this new alliance include:

“Align on key skills for childhood education and co-create a public narrative around the importance of incorporating these skills in childhood learning.
Surface and promote innovative, public-private-led approaches to developing Education 4.0 skills.
Incentivize and reward the adoption of Education 4.0 skills within childhood learning.”
Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the WEF, described the new alliance:

“In an era of multiple disruptions to the labour market — the pandemic, supply chain changes, the green transition, technological transformation — the one ‘no regret’ investment all governments and business can make is in education, reskilling and upskilling.

“It is the best pathway to expanding opportunity, enhancing social mobility and accelerating future growth.”

Further emphasizing the projected economic benefits of such an educational transition, the launch of the Education 4.0 Alliance was accompanied by the release of a report: “Catalysing Education 4.0: Investing in the Future of Learning for a Human-Centric Recovery.”

The report “focuses on a broad range of skills to prepare learners for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and leverages technological and pedagogical innovation to put learners at the centre of learning.”

Arguing there is today “a unique window of opportunity to invest in Education 4.0,” the report claims that “preparing today’s generation of school-age children with better collaborative problem-solving … could add $2.54 trillion — more than $3,000 per school-age child — from this one skill alone.”

The report presents “three key investment areas” related to the Education 4.0 Alliance: 1) new assessment mechanisms; 2) adoption of new learning technologies; and 3) empowerment of the teaching workforce.

Ushering in virtual reality learning?

Describing a hypothetical scenario in which COVID-related closures of educational institutions interrupted one student’s nursing education, the WEF presents VR technology as coming to the rescue, via a “virtual emergency room.”

The WEF defines VR training as “the process of learning in a simulated or artificial environment,” adding that it “has existed in the realm of education for over half a century but has dramatically expanded over the past fifteen years.”

An article released as part of this year’s WEF meeting states, “VR is making education less conventional and [is] advancing K-12, higher education and vocational training.”

According to the WEF, “training using Virtual Reality has recently been applied in many education fields, but primarily in health and safety, engineering, and technical education.”

Why is VR learning such an apparent priority for the WEF?

Read More: Future of Education? WEF’s Vision

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