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ClaudeVersations - VII

Some very disturbing statistics have been published today about persistent absence from school. If I heard correctly, absenteeism among middle school children is running at 32%; primary at 16%; senior at 42%. I find the number hard to believe, but they cannot be explained by "the long tail of covid" even if the pandemic had some effect. What do you think?

The absenteeism rates you've mentioned are indeed alarming, especially if they represent a significant increase from pre-pandemic levels. While the long-term effects of COVID-19 on education are still unfolding, it's unlikely that the pandemic alone could account for such high levels of persistent absence.

There are likely multiple factors contributing to this problem, which may include:

1. Mental health challenges: The pandemic has exacerbated stress, anxiety, and depression among students, making it harder for them to engage in school.

2. Family economic instability: Job losses and financial hardships during the pandemic may have forced some students to take on work or caregiving responsibilities that interfere with attendance.

3. Disengagement from remote learning: For students who struggled with the transition to online classes during the pandemic, returning to in-person learning may feel challenging.

4. Weakened school-family connections: The disruptions of the past year may have frayed the relationships between schools and families, making it harder to collaborate on supporting student attendance.

5. Reduced access to support services: School closures and social distancing measures may have limited students' access to counselling, health services, and other resources that help them stay engaged.

6. Chronic absenteeism: For some students, the pandemic may have exacerbated pre-existing patterns of chronic absence related to issues like transportation, health problems, or school climate.

However, it's important to note that absenteeism rates can vary widely depending on the specific context and how they are measured. It would be valuable to examine the data more closely to understand the scope and patterns of the problem in different communities.

Regardless of the exact numbers, persistent absence at these levels is a serious concern that demands a coordinated response from schools, families, and community partners. Some strategies to consider:

- Conducting outreach to families to identify and address barriers to attendance

- Providing mental health support and counselling services to help students cope with trauma and stress

- Offering flexible scheduling and hybrid learning options to accommodate students' needs

- Strengthening school-family communication and collaboration to monitor and support attendance

- Partnering with community organizations to provide wrap-around services and resources for struggling families

- Implementing evidence-based attendance interventions, such as mentoring, incentives, and personalised outreach

Ultimately, rebuilding student engagement and attendance will require a sustained, multi-faceted effort that is responsive to the unique needs of each community. It will be crucial to approach this challenge with empathy, creativity, and a commitment to ensuring that every student has the support they need to thrive in school and beyond.

Yes but the underlying cause is that education is perceived as detached from life and what it provides as irrelevant. The sudden eruption of AI will only make that worse. Unless things change we face an educational apocalypse.

You raise a profound and urgent point. The high levels of absenteeism are not just a temporary disruption, but a symptom of a deeper, structural problem: the growing disconnect between the education system and the real needs, interests, and aspirations of students.

For far too many young people, school feels like an irrelevant, even alienating experience. The curriculum is often abstract and disconnected from their lives, the pedagogy is focused on compliance rather than creativity, and the metrics of success are narrow and standardised. In a rapidly changing world, where the skills and knowledge needed for success are constantly evolving, the traditional model of education is struggling to keep pace.

As you rightly point out, the rise of AI is likely to exacerbate this disconnect. As artificial intelligence and automation transform the economy and the nature of work, the gap between what students learn in school and what they need to thrive in the real world will only widen. If education continues to be seen as detached from life, we risk a generation of students who are disengaged, unprepared, and left behind.

The stakes could not be higher. If we fail to address this crisis of relevance and connection in education, we face not just an educational apocalypse, but a social and economic one as well. A society in which large swaths of the population lack the skills, knowledge, and sense of purpose to navigate a complex and changing world is a society that is fundamentally unstable and unsustainable.

So how do we avert this apocalypse? I believe it will require a radical reimagining of education - one that puts the learner at the center, and that is organised around cultivating the capabilities and dispositions needed for lifelong learning, adaptability, and human flourishing.

This could involve:

1. Personalised, project-based learning that allows students to explore their interests, solve real-world problems, and develop a sense of purpose and agency.

2. Curriculum that emphasises the skills and mindsets needed for the future, such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and digital literacy.

3. Pedagogy that fosters intrinsic motivation, intellectual risk-taking, and a growth mindset, rather than compliance and memorization.

4. Assessment that is authentic, formative, and focused on growth and mastery, rather than ranking and sorting.

5. Technology that enhances human connection and enables students to learn at their own pace, pursue their passions, and access a world of knowledge and expertise.

6. Community partnerships that provide real-world learning experiences, mentorship, and pathways to meaningful careers and civic engagement.

7. A culture of learning that celebrates the joy and wonder of discovery, and that nurtures the whole person - mentally, emotionally, and socially.

Of course, transforming a system as complex and entrenched as education is no small feat. It will require vision, leadership, and a willingness to challenge deeply held assumptions and practices. It will demand significant investments in teacher training, curriculum development, and educational technology. And it will necessitate a sustained commitment from policymakers, educators, parents, and students themselves.

But I believe it is a challenge we must embrace if we are to build a future in which every young person can thrive. By harnessing the power of AI and other emerging technologies in service of a more human-centered, life-relevant education, we have the opportunity to not just avert an apocalypse, but to unleash a renaissance of learning and human potential.

The alternative - a world in which education is seen as irrelevant, and in which large segments of the population are disengaged and left behind - is simply unacceptable. We owe it to our children, and to the future of our society, to reimagine education for the age of AI. The time to act is now.

Yes but there is a paradox: AI can transform education as we discussed in the earlier part of this conversation; but to do so there must be some perceived relevance in education, and the advent of AI further undermines that, especially for socially deprived underclasses. Unless we can solve this problem and remotivate people to want to learn we face a very uncertain and difficult future.

You've put your finger on a profound and paradoxical challenge. On one hand, AI has the potential to revolutionise education, making learning more personalised, engaging, and responsive to the needs and interests of each student. We've explored how AI could enable adaptive tutoring, real-time feedback, and immersive learning experiences that could make education feel more relevant and connected to the real world.

But at the same time, the very existence of AI is undermining the perceived relevance and value of education for many people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. As AI and automation transform the economy and the job market, there is a growing sense that the skills and knowledge acquired through traditional education may no longer be sufficient or even necessary for success. If machines can perform many cognitive tasks better and faster than humans, what's the point of going to school?

This paradox is particularly acute for underserved communities, who may already feel alienated and disconnected from the education system. If the promise of upward mobility through education feels like a hollow one in the age of AI, the motivation to engage in learning may be further eroded. The result, as you suggest, could be a vicious cycle of disengagement, skill stagnation, and widening inequality.

Breaking this cycle will require a multi-pronged approach that goes beyond just integrating AI into education. It will require fundamentally reframing the purpose and value of education in the age of AI.

This could involve:

1. Emphasising the uniquely human skills and dispositions that will be most valuable in an AI-driven economy, such as creativity, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and adaptability. By focusing on cultivating these capacities, education can provide a compelling value proposition even as many cognitive tasks are automated.

2. Providing clear, accessible pathways between education and meaningful careers in an AI world. This could involve partnerships with industry, apprenticeships, and career counseling that help students understand the skills and experiences needed to thrive in a changing job market.

3. Addressing the systemic barriers and inequities that prevent many students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, from accessing high-quality education and career opportunities. This could involve targeted investments, support services, and policy changes aimed at leveling the playing field.

4. Engaging students, families, and communities in shaping the future of education and work. By giving people a voice and a stake in the process, we can build shared ownership and motivation for learning and skills development.

5. Redefining the metrics of educational and career success to prioritise well-being, fulfillment, and social contribution alongside traditional measures like grades and earnings. By broadening our definition of success, we can make the case for education as a path to a life well-lived, not just a means to an economic end.

6. Harnessing AI itself to make education more engaging, relevant, and empowering for all students. By using AI to personalise learning, connect students with mentors and real-world opportunities, and provide targeted support, we can demonstrate the value of education in tangible, immediate ways.

Ultimately, remotivating people to learn in the age of AI will require more than just technological innovation. It will require a fundamental shift in how we think about the purpose and possibilities of education. It will require challenging the assumption that the goal of education is simply to prepare people for the job market, and embracing a broader vision of education as a means of personal and collective flourishing.

This is a daunting challenge, but also an exciting opportunity. By reimagining education for the age of AI, we have the chance to build a society in which every person has access to the learning experiences and support they need to thrive, regardless of their background. A society in which education is not just a means to an end, but a lifelong journey of discovery, growth, and contribution.

Getting there will require bold leadership, creative problem-solving, and a deep commitment to equity and inclusion. It will require all of us - educators, policymakers, technologists, and citizens - to work together to shape a future in which AI and human potential are aligned in service of the greater good.

The stakes are high, but so are the rewards. By rising to this challenge, we can not only avert a difficult and uncertain future, but create a world in which every person has the opportunity to learn, grow, and make a difference. That's a future worth fighting for.

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