AI and machine learning are transforming the lives of young people. | Image: Robo Wunderkind/Unsplash

This is how to help young people navigate the opportunities and risks of AI and digital technology

Simon Torkington
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda

  • AI and digital technology are transforming the lives of young people worldwide.
  • Education systems are playing catch up with technology that teachers don’t understand.
  • The impact of AI and digital technology on children was under discussion at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos 2024.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a question that has been posited to one generation after another – and the answers from young people were based on some level of certainty about the future.

Those aspiring train drivers, doctors, firefighters and lawyers looked forward to jobs for life, in industries and services that had stood the test of time.

As we enter the age of artificial intelligence (AI), young people are facing a world where certainty is at a premium. Advanced technologies, including AI, machine learning and digital twins are reshaping every aspect of their lives. That includes education systems preparing them for a world of work that may look nothing like what their parents experienced.

Education in a post-truth era

One of the most immediate challenges facing educators is helping children spot the difference between objective facts and the flood of disinformation and misinformation on the digital platforms they use so frequently. The 2024 edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report ranks misinformation and disinformation as the most serious risk the world faces in the next two years.

Global risks ranked by severity over the short and long term
Young people will require the skills to detect a flood of digital misinformation. Image: WEF

Giving young people the skills to detect “fake news” and other manipulated information will be crucial if they are to achieve highly in education and beyond. In the US, the state of California is introducing digital media literacy classes in every school. Erin McNeill, the founder and CEO of advocacy group Media Literacy Now, told UK newspaper The Guardian: “I can’t think of anything that’s more critical in education right now.”

The impact of AI and digital technology on young people was a discussion point at the recent World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. In a session titled ‘Education Meets AI’, panellists identified two key challenges for educators in the age of AI.

Firstly, Slovenia’s Minister of Digital Transformation, Emilija Stojmenova Duh told the panel: “We have good teachers, but they don’t understand how AI works … the first thing that we need to start working on is train the teachers, train the mentors, train the coaches so that they can share their knowledge later on.”

The second challenge focused on instilling strong digital discipline in students as they adopt AI tools in their educational careers. Hadi Partovi, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the educational non-profit said: “Young people don’t view education as just the education system. They go to school, but they also learn on YouTube and they push the boundaries of what school tells them they should or shouldn’t do. When the school tells them they can’t use ChatGPT, that’s probably the first thing they’ll go and do. What’s important is for our school systems to recognize this, and be leaders in embracing technology rather than being laggards, because the kids are going to be getting that technology with or without the school system.”

The impact of technology beyond the classroom

As the comment above suggests, young people spend more time with digital technology at home rather than in school.

The potentially negative impacts of excessive screen time and social media use are well documented. A June 2023 study published by the US National Health Institute found that; “excessive screen usage has detrimental effects on social and emotional growth, including a rise in the likelihood of obesity, sleep disorders, and mental health conditions including depression and anxiety. It can obstruct the ability to interpret emotions, fuel aggressive conduct and harm one’s psychological health in general”.

In a Davos session entitled ‘Young Brains and Screens’, participants discussed how parents, regulators and big tech companies can help young people lead more healthy digital lives.

Musician and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Angélique Kidjo told the panel: “We need regulation. We cannot say that … all the platforms … are immune to law. We need to start there. And we also need to help parents understand the danger that is putting a cell phone in the hand of a child.”

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