Robots, Human Capital & Digital Learning – Managing Transition and Inclusion

Rationale and objectives

If one day robots were to be entrusted with managing EfVET annual conference, the organisers and members would simply sit back, relax and enjoy the event.

 

Robots today are already capable of designing programmes, writing, speaking, walking, cooking, preparing drinks, navigating cars, ships, airplanes and a million other activities! Will they be able to take all our routine jobs? Will we be able to cope with and tolerate their artificial intelligence? Will employers invest in robots or in skilling, upskilling and reskilling of their human capital? If cost-effectiveness is an indicator to go by, then in several jobs’ robots are cheaper, ‘loyal’ servants and hard-working, efficient and highly productive. How will this phenomenon impact on vocational education and training?

 

No matter how hard it is to imagine such a situation in workplaces or in learning institutions, the truth is that technology, robotics, artificial intelligence and the internet of things are presenting several challenges to human beings particularly those in charge of skilling young people. The rapport between robots, human beings and vocational education is imminent and perplexing. On the one hand employers and businesses are investing heavily in equipment which makes productivity faster, precise and with fascinating gadgets and artificial intelligent responses. Take modern transportation and logistics. More than ninety percent of the activity that takes place in moving objects is in the hands of “intelligent” machines that can navigate in the dark, take rockets to the moon, finds files in a data base in seconds and analyse and compose legal documents in real time!

In this scenario EfVET wishes to challenge its members by presenting the reality outside its traditional confines of the educational discourse that has taken place over the last twenty years. 

 

While acknowledging that vocational education has made significant strides towards parity of esteem with other educational sectors yet exploring the potential of work-based learning in an age of technology may not have had enough visibility that impacts policy, financial resources and the image of VET itself. By associating robots with human beings and vocational education, the scope of this conference is to reflect on how VET colleges and schools can manage the necessary transition from school-based to reality-based learning. In this context, the borders of our VET institutions will be challenged by the advancements that are taking place in work-places. Teachers will be challenged by the knowledge and the foresight of employers and high-tech employees. Policy-makers will find their action as too slow and financially too little to be relevant to the labour market of today, let alone that of tomorrow. The EC can only allocate 1.25% of its total budget to ERASMUS+. Of these funds only 16.25% is allocated to VET when compared to 50% mobility to higher education. The budget will only be doubled in 2027 when the planned cycle for VET 2030 will be almost over.

 

If these are some of the challenges we face, then it is necessary to pool resources from the world of employment and the world of vocational education and build enough momentum to claim a share of the governance of VET from current stakeholders. We need enough predictive capacity not only to image the future of VET but also to accomplish predictions. Facts such as education is accessible anywhere anytime, technology brings reality to life and employment is not exclusively for those with formal qualifications cannot be ignored.

 

No matter how far one stretches his or her imagination, the value of the human teacher remains undisputable. However, nothing is certain unless human teachers, policy-makers, researchers find ways and means to work side-by-side with robots; use robots to attract learners and make their lives more meaningful; create work-based learning in real life or in simulated environments.

This conference will explore what roadmap vocational education leaders, managers and practitioners (teachers, tutors and expert in international mobility) must design to enable them to lead, manage and practice education and training that matches as close as possible the world of work. Furthermore, beyond the conventional pleas for quality, transparency, mobility, permeability, inclusion and recognition of qualifications lies the challenge of relevancy and effectiveness. A further challenge is to speed up reform, the image of VET and transform talking into action! This conference aims at establishing a new paradigm shift that could take vocational education to its next level of excellence based on targeted action, systemic implementation and targeted impact.