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David Susskind on AI in the world of work and how it will impact the laggardly education

David Susskind at the EdTech Summit 2020

The Future of Education 

This was a lecture that sustained its pace. I’ve changed its title because I suspect that he adapted ‘the lecture of the book’ ‘A World Without Work’ and then journalistically tossed in a bit of Covid, when in fact his presentation and thesis was that education is getting behind and profound change is in the air. Some have already embraced it. Woe betide those who get left behind. 

There is a time and place for talking not teaching. Teaching can be talking, whatever you are taught in PGCE.  

There were several parts to this memorable and important talk. The part on education is what matters to us in education – the rest was a preamble. 

I got the impression that Susskind was saying that it felt as if education was operating in isolation from the ‘real world’. My experience is that it is not helped by being underfunded and so under capitalised. Do we have the right kit, the best kit, the most appropriate platforms and apps and do we have a team of experienced, hot e-learning experts? 

I rather feel that if we want to prepare students for the world of work then they need to be equally familiar with Microsoft systems (Team and 360) and Google through G Suite for education. What if G Suite is the better delivery system for education, but once out there students are going to have to get their heads around Microsoft from scratch. The brave thing would be to go Google with the creative industries, Apple Macs too – while everyone else goes with Microsoft and PCs. 

It was an eyeopener to learn what Artificial Intelligence (AI)  is doing in medicine, journalism, law and architecture. Where is it making headway in education? Accountancy, law, languages … 

As a society we suffer from a bias towards the status quo, Susskind said. I have to wonder if we are governed by little Englanders. We can never be Singapore, though I suspect Scotland could be. Does education lack the desire to succeed if that requires change? Success in education is built on and requires school thinking and methods. I have to wonder if education is populated by what Everett Rogers would term the ‘laggards’ rather than ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’. Certainly in the public sector the money is lacking. How well off are private schools by comparison? Even certain universities – the rich ones. Is money dictating a person’s ability to get into the world of e-work, let alone thrive in it? 

During the EdTech Summit 2020 there has been repeated talk of the ‘widening gap’ in education. Too many kids do not have a laptop, desktop of tablet; if they are fortunate they have a phone. Too many kids do not have Internet access at home. And if there’s a computer at home they have to compete for time on it, and then use it in a shared space. This is hardly conducive to studying and absolutely not suited to live-streaming conference classes. 

Speaking like a consultant to the education sector, Susskind warned that ‘the way we teach people hasn’t changed for decades.’ It was ironic therefore that he was speaking from a Balliol College study, one of the oldest colleges in Oxford, in one of the oldest universities in the world, a university that has its foundation and geographical location based on the printed book, its rarity and exclusive access to the knowledge they contain through the Bodleian Library.  

Susskind spoke of ‘spectacular failures in teaching people remotely’ though he shied away from offering examples. Are we talking institutions, apps, trends? There have been successes too. He didn’t say what they were.


“We need to think more boldly about the way we teach and face the inevitability, ambiguity and uncertainty – and be willing to retrain.”

I need  to read his books! 

Daniel Susskind, Balliol College, Fellow 

I got ‘A World Without Work’ via Amazon in a few clicks. Not wanting the digital version – I’m not going to drop everything to read it anyway, I ordered a hardback copy. It arrived less than 22 hours later. 

It is now stacked with no fewer than 27 other books I want to read and review. I will have to set some priorities: First World War History Books forms one stream – by far the largest. I can have two of these on the go at any one time. E-Learning comes next, and includes a backlog of TES magazine and now Daniel Susskind. There is also a small stack on sustainability and the environment – mostly George Monbiot’s back catalogue.


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