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Artificial intelligence (AI) has been comprehensively embraced in the private sector in South Africa in less than a year, but more must be done to ensure that the public sector – and especially students in public schools and universities – are also empowered and prepared for the future world of work, an education expert says.

“In a rapidly changing job market, adaptability is paramount. By integrating AI into education, South Africa will ensure that our young people are not only consumers of technology but also creators. We must ensure, as a matter of urgency, greater AI literacy throughout our education system, and that students are equipped with skills that transcend textbooks,” says Dr Alex Asakitikpi, Senior Researcher at IIE Varsity College, a brand of The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s leading private higher education provider.

Asakitikpi says resource constraints and well-known challenges throughout the education system cannot be dismissed; however, it is essential to work towards integrating AI into the education system despite these hurdles.

“There is much that can be done, and done urgently if SA’s policymakers, educators, and industry leaders collaborate,” says Dr Asakitikpi.

“Curricula should incorporate AI literacy, demystifying complex topics and emphasizing hands-on learning. Teacher training programmes should equip educators with the skills to navigate this new terrain. And partnerships with tech companies, research institutions, and NGOs can provide resources, mentorship, and exposure,” he says.

In recognition of the importance of incorporating AI into the education system, The Independent Institute of Education’s IIE MSA recently hosted an international conference at its campus in Ruimsig, Johannesburg, called “Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Education and Work”, where leading researchers and academics in the field of AI were united in urging the government to speed up the development of policies that facilitate incorporation of AI across all levels of the education system.

“AI is rapidly changing the future of work and it is estimated that 50% of jobs that exist today will disappear as companies adopt and integrate new AI-driven technologies and machines into their production and business processes to perform tasks that were previously done by many people,” says Dr Asakitikpi.

“We all know by now that AI will make humans more efficient and faster when performing tasks, and that tasks that were previously done by many people can now, and will in the future, be done by one person. However, at the same time, AI will create new opportunities for job seekers and entrepreneurs. Preparing our youth in this regard is non-negotiable, and nobody should be left behind.”

AI-driven technologies and tools enable people to learn new skills quickly and to develop new ideas, thereby reducing barriers to market entry and lowering the cost of doing business. 

“For instance, there are new AI-related jobs in the fields of data science and robotics, which did not exist before, but pay significantly higher than traditional occupations. We therefore call on the government to establish a Task Force that takes a pro-active approach to developing policies for AI, while the industry collaborates with higher education institutions to fund research into AI-related skills,” advises Dr Asakitikpi.

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