Technology and the Future of Education & Work

CITRIS Policy Lab
Nov 23, 2020 · 5 min read

Saurabh Sanghvi, Associate Partner and Leader in McKinsey’s Education and Economic Development Practices on the benefits and risks of emerging technologies in the future of education and work.

Saurabh Sanghvi is an Associate Partner and leader in McKinsey’s Education and Economic Development practices. Saurabh has worked with nonprofits, government, universities, school systems, and companies on the topics of education, workforce development, economic development, product development, growth strategy, and innovation. Saurabh also supports research on the future of work and its implications on jobs, skills, and wages and is passionate about exploring how technology can better support diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The following are his remarks captured from a public panel “The Inclusive Workforce: Strategies to Enhance the Future of Public Sector Work” hosted by the CITRIS Policy Lab.

1. You’ve explored the effects of AI on the K-12 teacher workforce in your “How Artificial Intelligence will Impact K-12 teachers” report. In the report, you describe the increased workload demand and strain being put on teachers and the promise that AI holds. What are some of the ways AI is being deployed to help teachers? And what are the benefits and risks?

As you think about COVID-19, it’s increased the sheer amount of demands on teachers who are not only now needing to be teachers, but often also public health experts, compliance experts, and more (including potentially teaching an in-person student group and remote student group)! Our analysis draws upon the experiences of over 2,000 teachers across the world, understanding the activities that they’re doing, and identifying where AI can potentially play a role. Asynchronous learning platforms hold great promise by leveraging AI and personalization. The idea is that if the technology is integrated into existing processes, teachers will be able spend less time on administrative tasks and more time on professional development, student coaching and feedback, and social and emotional skill development, and doing more personalized interventions for each and every student. The challenging part of this is that the tools I’ve been discussing will be efficient only if implemented with the necessary training and buy-in from teachers and other stakeholders.

2. Emerging technologies, especially AI, promise to bring gains in efficiency, effectiveness, and equity in public sector work. What do you believe is the greatest benefit of implementing emerging technologies in public sector work?

I think it gives us a chance to really think about the next frontiers of what workers could uniquely be doing in various aspects of the public sector. We’ve done a lot of work at McKinsey figuring out what jobs are going to be automated. One of our main findings is that 60% of occupations have 30% of their tasks that could be automated, but less than 10% can be fully automated. When I really think about the strength of emerging technologies, especially in the public sector, I think about delightful customer experiences and interactions, freeing up significant time spent on administrative tasks, and unlocking time for high value activities and deeper human interactions.

3. What do you believe is the greatest risk of implementing emerging technologies, especially AI, in public sector work? Why?

I think the biggest threat is inequity if left unmanaged. Without management of inequity, we’re going to see disproportionate impacts on women, people of color, and people with lower educational attainment levels. As we think about addressing those issues, a lot of it is going to require improvement of the education system not just thinking about addressing biases and building better AI algorithms but also thinking about how we are building better talent pipelines to help the current and future labor force have the technical and socio-emotional skills required for the future. I think improving these systems in an inclusive and equitable manner is a critical role that the public sector specifically can play.

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4. What suggestions do you have to support the development of a future public sector workforce?

First, we should utilize this moment of significant technological changes affecting the workforce to think about what is truly needed in the future of education and the future of work. There are still a lot of unknowns, but we should think about how to support flexibility and agility in education. I think the key aspect that we need to figure out is what skills are really important in the future of work. We need to make sure that we’re not overreacting and creating a curriculum that every K-12 student now needs to learn that quickly gets outdated (e.g., a specific coding language vs. teaching the fundamental thinking behind coding). Instead, students continue to require numeracy and literacy but also foundational problem solving, critical thinking, and socio-emotional skills. We must also reinforce growth mindsets. We need to be cautious about not overreacting to something that’s short-term and take a longer-term approach that provides students and employees the ability to learn throughout their lifetime.

5. What do you think is the most valuable action that needs to be taken to better ensure the maximization of AI’s benefits as it moves into the public sector?

I think the most important priority is being user-centric when thinking about education solutions. In other words, it is important to address how students, parents, teachers, employers and other stakeholders can be constantly involved in discussions. It’s important to understand how we can be very practical and implement pilots that we scale if we see good results or stop quickly if we see negative effects. At the same time, I also think it’s important that we challenge ourselves to understand a reimagined future education landscape and identify the necessary steps towards preparing for this. In general, the pace of change in the public sector and education has been slower than others in terms of digitization, automation, and productivity gains. This needs to change and the question is not a matter of “if this change happens,” it’s a matter of “when this change happens.” We need to find ways to improve the agility of institutions that have the potential (and need) to make the public sector and education inclusive and equitable.

The CITRIS Policy Lab, headquartered at CITRIS and the Banatao Institute at UC Berkeley, supports interdisciplinary research, education, and thought leadership to address core questions regarding the role of formal and informal regulation in promoting innovation and amplifying its positive effects on society.