Resolution on: The Future of the Teaching Profession

published 23 September 2019 updated 23 September 2019

The 8th World Congress of Education International (EI), meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, from 21st to 26th July 2019:

(1) Noting that the development of artificial intelligence (AI) software and super-fast computers, combined with sophisticated and highly capable robotics, will change the work of most workers including teachers and professionals in education;

(2) Recognising that over the next 15 years, the use of AI technologies to assist teachers in the classroom and the home will expand significantly, as will learning based on adaptive online courses and virtual reality applications;

(3) Asserting that the implementation of sophisticated technology in the learning environment and workplace will happen regardless of the actions the world’s education unions do, or do not, take. However, how that implementation is done and the effect it will have on teachers can and should be influenced by education unions;

(4) Noting that the AI in the education market is dominated by a small number of corporations, namely Google, Microsoft, IBM, Pearson, and Amazon;

(5) Stating that there is a distinction between simple robotics that have been in the work environment for decades and the advent of sophisticated AI. In the past, robotics frequently replaced repetitive manual labour. Today’s AI attempts to partially replace human thinking;

(6) Asserting that new technology can never substitute for the relationship between teacher and student or teacher and class. Technology should supplement but should not supplant teaching. These technologies, which include AI, should not, under any circumstances, jeopardise the professional independence of teachers;

(7) Asserting the importance of uniquely human skills and capabilities in the face of automation and robotisation. The role of education should increasingly be to support students in developing soft skills and non-cognitive skills, such as creativity, communication, curiosity, civic skills, and emotional intelligence. Education in a globalised and digital world must foster values of cooperation, intercultural awareness, democracy and a sense of responsibility;

(8) Affirming that the advancement of new AI technologies in the learning environment has amplified the “digital divide” and increased inequity. Many schools do not have the resources to implement new technologies because it requires significant investment in information technology (IT) as well as reliable internet access;

(9) Recalling that most research, including recent studies on the future of work by the OECD, estimate that today’s technology, driven by AI, will fundamentally change the labour market in in the next 10 to 12 years. Predictions vary greatly, but some researchers estimate that 400 million to 800 million jobs worldwide could be automated by 2030;

(10) Noting that many predict that the large job loss will be mitigated by the need for workers in yet-to-be-determined jobs. However, these new jobs will require workers to obtain new skills. How workers will develop these new skills and who will pay for all this “upskilling” are two of the most important questions;

(11) Affirming that education will become a life-long pursuit for most workers. In order to have the flexibility that new technology requires workers will have to continue their formal education throughout their lives. This need for life-long upskilling is one reason the education field will see less job loss than other sectors during the revolution;

(12) Believing that the future of union work will be, at least in part, to oversee and support the constant, life-long upskilling of their members that the new work environment will require. It is crucial that unions stand up for their members and make sure that good and free continuous professional development on AI is provided so that education personnel can get the skills they need to remain competitive in a rapidly changing world of work;

(13) Stating that all unions must get ahead of the digitisation curve. Unions are uniquely positioned to address the challenges posed by AI in the learning environment and workplace, and these challenges are growing every day. Every union should dedicate time and resources to understand the potential challenges AI brings to the work of their members. When unions understand the impact of AI, they can effectively help their members adjust to the new work environment.

(14) Mandates the EI Executive Board:

(i) To assess the relevance of including in the EI work plan a component to map and document the development of technologies in the different environments where EI affiliated unions are active;

(ii) To encourage member organisations to engage with the public they serve and develop a “social compact” on the appropriate use of AI and the future of work. The public needs to gain an understanding of the inherent risks if a large number of workers are replaced by learning machines. They must understand that even if their own jobs are not directly affected by artificial intelligence or even if they are not in the workforce, without a functioning social compact, they will also feel the negative impacts of this revolution;

(iii) To consider the need to establish a commission of representatives from unions, employers, the government and OECD to study and make recommendations regarding the scope and use of artificial intelligence and robotics in the workplace as well as the future of work in our country. Similar commissions should be convened in every state / country.

(iv) To develop framing guides for collective bargaining language and public policies on the possible implementation of artificial intelligence and robotics in the workplace and in public service. These guides would help local workers develop the agreements and policies as quickly as possible without having to redo the analysis that was done at the national level;

(v) To jointly develop strategies (political, legislative, and media) to ensure the possible infusion of artificial intelligence and robotics in the workplace protects workers, is well regulated, protects privacy and creates numerous “free of cost” opportunities for workers to acquire the skills they need to secure gainful employment;

(vi) To develop internal strategies that include job sector policies regarding AI and programmes to help under-employed workers obtain new skills and secure full-time work. Unions should reorganise themselves to be essential, life-long partners for workers as they navigate this new, ever changing world of work;

(vii) To affirm the importance of uniquely human skills and capabilities in the face of automatisation and robotisation and promote the role of teachers in developing soft skills and non-cognitive skills in addition to cognitive skills;

(viii) To continue to be involved with the global union community and work together on successful ways to deal with this new reality. This is not a time to pull back; it is time to seek out new information, new understandings, and build consensus on the best ways for the world’s unions to influence the world of work in the next few decades.