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Closing the Education-Technology Gap

As advances in artificial intelligence and automation continue, the distance between high-skilled elites and everyone else will only grow. To counter this bifurcation, we should be using new technologies to educate more people at lower cost.

LONDON – In 2007, Harvard University economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz published The Race Between Education and Technology. America’s once-great education system, Goldin and Katz argued, was failing to keep pace with technological change and the economic disparity that comes with it. Even more concerning, they would likely make the same argument today. As we enter the third decade of this century, students in the United States and around the world are struggling to get an education that prepares them for a rapidly changing workplace.

Technology is clearly winning the race between man and machine. The current wave of technological change is affecting every industry, requiring skills that are far more advanced and diverse than what was expected of workers just a generation ago. With demand for high-skilled labor outpacing supply, a global elite of highly educated, highly paid professionals has emerged, leading increasingly insulated lives. Worse, access to basic education is still being denied to the bulk of school-age children in developing countries, and a university-level education lies far beyond the reach of millions around the world. We estimate that even in 2040, only 25% of the world’s adult population will have secondary education qualifications or degrees and that a higher percentage, 27%, will either have had no schooling at all or at best an incomplete primary education.

This divide between an education-rich elite with university degrees and the education-poor is thus likely to deepen, exacerbating within-country inequalities. Globally, higher education can increase one’s wage earnings by 16% on average, and by as much as 27% in low-income countries. But with advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, this gap will widen even further, by boosting the capabilities (or “augmented intelligence”) of the privileged few who already have the skills to use the new technologies.