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Stakeholders from K-12, higher ed, industry, and government are convening to outline AI skills and workforce development policies.

New group targets AI skills in education and the workforce

Stakeholders from K-12, higher ed, industry, and government are convening to outline AI skill development policies

Key points:

A new commission comprising policymakers, education leaders, business leaders, and education stakeholders from 16 states is tackling AI’s role in education from kindergarten through postsecondary programs, focusing on AI skill readiness and policy development.

The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Commission on Artificial Intelligence in Education is chaired by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and is co-chaired by Brad D. Smith, president of Marshall University (WV) and former Intuit CEO.

The commission will review research and industry data and hear from education experts as it develops recommendations for southern states around using AI in teaching and learning, developing AI-related policies, and preparing students for careers in AI.

Top of mind for commission members after the group’s initial meeting was how to ensure AI is thoughtfully infused in K-12 and postsecondary curricula in a manner that equips students for success in a workforce that will demand AI skills and know-how for jobs that largely do not yet exist.

“This isn’t the age of Rosie the Robot taking over jobs–there will be jobs. The question is, are we going to have people equipped to fill those jobs?” said SREB President Dr. Stephen Pruitt during a conference to discuss the group’s first meeting.

The commission’s first meeting generated discussions about what, exactly, AI looks like at different levels of education and how to integrate it in useful and actionable ways for students, educators, and stakeholders.

“We have a blueprint of what it looks like to implement this technology into different fields of education and what types of relationships that creates with the workforce. We have a plan and we’re ready to progress that plan,” said Calvin McNeil, an Advanced Placement computer science instructor with the University of Florida.

Bringing in industry members is a critical part of the commission’s success in outlining what AI skill proficiency looks like at the K-12 and postsecondary levels.

“One of the great things, from education and the legislative side, is having the active involvement of industries and knowing what they’re looking for, so we can get back to schools and know what needs to be taught,” said Charles Appleby, senior advisor to the Coordinating Council for Workforce Development with the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.

Ultimately, the group’s common goal is to ensure students aren’t lagging behind a rapidly evolving workforce that is increasingly centered around AI knowledge.

“Everyone here, from diverse perspectives, recognizes the importance and the critical nature of this technology. Our charge is to balance risks and opportunities in the education space,” said Sen. Katie Fry Hester of Maryland. “In thinking about education, you can use AI to tailor education to individual students, to improve mundane tasks, and to look at large data sets and identify trends. But we want to do all that in a really careful way and make sure the AI we’re using is fair and unbiased. We want to make sure student data stays safe. We want to ensure that with our teachers’ jobs, that the AI enhances, rather than replaces, the role of teachers. I think this is the right group to do that.”

“We’re really preparing our institutions to prepare people for a world that’s changed. They say about 60 percent of our jobs will be impacted by AI. Well, how do we use that technology to better prepare students for a world that will be very different from the world we’re currently in?” said Jim Purcell, executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

“We’re bringing together industry, students, and parents, and we’re going to take advantage of what AI offers, which is a unique tool we can use to improve skillsets for the work environment. Students end up in a position where they can meet the needs of the job market,” said Stanton Greenawalt, professor of Cybersecurity at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in South Carolina.

Ensuring all students have access to AI skill development will play an important role in equity and access if AI skill frameworks reach students across all trajectories, particularly because education is key to economic mobility.

“In Florida, we’ve developed frameworks for learning standards going through our CTE division. In this division, students are learning high-level concepts, allowing them to become employable as we talk about this new Industrial Revolution 4.0, where there are jobs that haven’t been created yet,” said Nancy Ruzycki, an instructional associate professor and director of Undergraduate Laboratories at the University of Florida. “So, what skills do they need to learn, and how do we help them prepare? Helping people get into the AI pipeline provides equity and access for all students.”

Find a complete list of commission members here.

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