Introduction of AI modules in Kemas kindergartens — Yu Li Lim

JULY 11 — “Preparing the next generation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, is probably the thinking behind the introduction of AI modules in the 11,119 Kemas kindergartens (community development kindergartens) across the country.

The “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, refers to a technical revolution that changes the way human lives interact with technology, through the adoption of technologies such as artificial intelligence, internet of things devices and blockchain.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which blurs the lines between the physical, biological and digital world (for a light-hearted example, think Pokemon Go!), will require a highly skilled workforce which is data literate to be able to cope with technological changes.

Beyond the report of the launch, it has been a challenge to find further information online about the programme. This article wishes to comment on the introduction of AI education modules in Kemas kindergartens in relation to improving education equality.

AI has the ability to transform a child’s experience of education ranging from intelligent one-to-one tutoring platforms to complete engagement in a learning experience (eg imagine a child being able to use virtual reality to visit the pyramids in Egypt).

The introduction of AI modules into Kemas kindergartens is a commendable initiative as it widens accessibility to children regardless of their income backgrounds and geographical location (Kemas kindergartens are spread across urban and rural areas in the country).

This is particularly important as one of the key risks of AI is increasing the inequality gap: highly skilled workers being able to adapt to new technologies and earning a higher wage, while other workers are left behind.

To prevent the inequality gap, this cannot be a token initiative. There is an unfortunate trend at the primary and secondary levels of education of wealthier parents opting to send their children to one of the many private and international schools mushrooming up around the country, which indicates a lack of faith in the public education system.

We must ensure that children attending the public education system are not disadvantaged from the very start: thus, the AI modules in Kemas kindergartens must be able (to a reasonable extent) to keep pace with the quality of equivalent modules which are offered in private kindergartens.

This does not stop at provision of materials — teachers in Kemas kindergartens should have access to the training and support that they need so that they are able to make full use of the new materials as they are the first gateway to a child’s learning. The cost of this a practical concern, but perhaps suppliers could be persuaded to provide the same level of services at a lower cost due to the sheer scale of government demand.

A further point to consider is how these Kemas kindergarten modules sit alongside the planned primary and secondary school initiatives — for example, the Design and Technology (RBT) module to be introduced to Year Four students in 2020. There must be continuity in the syllabi between the various levels of schooling to ensure that the students are able to develop their skills in a systematic and holistic manner. A disjointed approach to the investment and development of these programmes will disrupt the learning curve and prevent students from reaching their full potential.

Finally, we should also ensure that sufficient resources continue to be invested into the development of uniquely human skills for children in Kemas kindergartens (and other levels of public education).

Learning how to use AI is not just about coding. Michelle Zimmerman, author of the Teaching AI: Exploring New Frontiers for Learning, states that an automation economy will rely on design thinking and project-based learning.

Uniquely human skills such as collaboration, empathy and creativity must be emphasised in order to help students establish an understanding of the world alongside technological expertise. This is essential so that students of today are able to devise creative solutions (technological or not) to real world problems in the future.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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