I recently had the pleasure of discussing mathematics with my 9-year-old niece, and explained to her different ways to solve a problem by breaking it down into smaller logical steps, and how such thinking can be used outside of mathematics. This got me thinking about what broader skills we need to equip kids with to help them navigate the era of AI.
If you’ve ever asked yourself “how do I help prepare my child for a data-driven future?” then you’re not alone. There is a real need to help children increase their awareness of the power and proliferation of such technology. To this end, I’ve developed some basic guidelines:
A basic skill we need to teach children is how to think.
More importantly, children need to learn how to think critically. With such prevalence of misinformation, and various technologies and apps vying for their precious attention, they need to be able to think logically, separate fact from fiction (and opinion), and understand the basics of reasoning.
They also need to be able to critically evaluate findings, and not just rely on a single source – so the ability to research and fact check is vital (eg check the writer’s authority and check the source). Parents can assist their children to develop such skills by asking open ended questions (how?, why?, what’s the flipside?), and helping them develop hypotheses.
We also need to be teaching children the ability to ask questions – not just rote learning – and to not only seek out subjective views that agree with theirs, by challenging their views and helping them construct logical arguments.
Anyone who’s ever spent time around children will realise that they’re inherently creative. The beauty of technological advances is that it has – in theory anyway – offered us more time to spend on creativity, rather than the mundane. This is what AI won’t be able to do anytime soon. I encourage all parents to nurture creative thinking in their children, to help them retain the ability to be playful with ideas. It starts with the basic principle of listening to what they’re saying, and then helping them to build on ideas to see how they develop.
To help children cope with reality ie a world beyond social media and the digital world, we also need to help them develop an additional cognitive skill – Emotional Intelligence (EI) – a key part of which involves teaching problem solving skills. Another component is helping children to be able to understand and articulate (at least to themselves) what they are feeling ie energised?, curious?, overwhelmed?. This can also be a vital resource in helping to keep them safe in a digital environment, such as helping them to recognise moments when things don’t feel right, which can help guard them from engaging with disturbing content.
For children these days, there seemingly never existed a time before computers! However, the basic skills of being comfortable with new and emerging technology are vital, and the assumption has been that children naturally adapt to it. But do they?
Research has shown that the Digital Native is actually a myth. Even though they now grow up surrounded by technology, parents still need to teach children how to use is effectively. One of the issues is that even though they use technology extensively, their range is quite narrow and not very deep, as they mainly consume ready-made, mass-produced content. For instance, do they understand how to resolve fairly simple troubleshooting issues? This is something that parents can assist them with.
Parents can help extend the digital literacy of their children in a number of specific ways:
- Help them generate content, such as blog posts – what’s appropriate to include and what’s not, and focusing on quality writing,
- Make them aware of privacy issues – such as secure passwords,
- Help them understand the permanence of what they post, and their digital footprints,
- Assist them with learning basic coding skills,
- Awareness and understanding of various ethical and legal aspects, such as plagiarism,
- How to identify and deal with cyberbullying, and
- Leveraging social media tools to engage with their peers to solve problems and share ideas, such as collaborative play.
In a data-driven world, a basic understanding of Data Literacy is fundamental. This includes the ability to speak the language of data, to visualise and communicate with data, to comprehend and question results, and to understand the basics of data analysis, such as descriptive statistics – including its use and misuse.
Broader communications skills are also vital – think oral, written and general presentation skills, all of which can be encouraged and supported by parents. A major component of future work will involve interpreting, translating and communicating output from AI systems, so they’ll need to be comfortable and knowledgeable in this regard.
In addition, children need to learn to cope with uncertainty – something that we don’t teach enough at school, and which is in fact the antithesis of what we teach – which is focussed on following defined process and rules. We also need to allow for failure, as a process by which to learn. After all, this is where innovation tends to spring from! An important aspect of this is discussing and communicating learnings – both positive and negative, and sharing information.
The aforementioned guidelines will help children become workers & citizens in this new era of AI. With rapidly improving automation, lifelong learning and continuous re-skilling becoming the norm, children need to be taught these skills from an early age, and parents can play a vital and pivotal role.
^Thanks to Alison Churchill for helpful insights and discussions regarding child psychology