Educational Research and Innovation

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

English
ISSN: 
2076-9679 (online)
ISSN: 
2076-9660 (print)
http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/20769679
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This series of books from the OECD's Centre for Educational Research and Innovations provides the results of OECD work on innovation in education.

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Computers and the Future of Skill Demand

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Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

English
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    http://oecd.metastore.ingenta.com/content/9617061e.pdf
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Author(s):
Stuart W. Elliott
27 Oct 2017
Pages:
108
ISBN:
9789264284395 (PDF) ; 9789264285538 (EPUB) ;9789264284388(print)
http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264284395-en

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Computer scientists are working on reproducing all human skills using artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics. Unsurprisingly then, many people worry that these advances will dramatically change work skills in the years ahead and perhaps leave many workers unemployable.

This report develops a new approach to understanding these computer capabilities by using a test based on the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) to compare computers with human workers. The test assesses three skills that are widely used at work and are an important focus of education: literacy, numeracy and problem solving with computers.

Most workers in OECD countries use the three skills every day. However, computers are close to reproducing these skills at the proficiency level of most adults in the workforce. Only 13% of workers now use these skills on a daily basis with a proficiency that is clearly higher than computers.

The findings raise troubling questions about whether most workers will be able to acquire the skills they need as these new computer capabilities are increasingly used over the next few decades. To answer those questions, the report’s approach could be extended across the full range of work skills. We need to know how computers and people compare across all skills to develop successful policies for work and education for the future.

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  • Foreword

    Digitalisation is connecting people, cities, countries and continents, bringing together a majority of the world’s population in ways that vastly increase our individual and collective potential. But the same forces have also made the world more volatile, more complex and more uncertain. The rolling processes of automation and hollowing out of jobs, particularly for routine tasks, have radically altered the nature of work and life. For those with the right knowledge, skills and character qualities this can be liberating and exciting. But for those who are insufficiently prepared, it can mean the scourge of vulnerable and insecure work, and life without prospects. We are living in this digital bazaar where anything that is not built for the network age is going to crack under its pressure. Future jobs are likely to pair computer intelligence with the creative, social and emotional skills of human beings. It will then be our capacity for innovation, our awareness and our sense of responsibility that will equip us to harness machines to shape the world. All this is driving amazing changes in the demand for skills and the dilemma for educators is that the kind of things that are easiest to teach and easiest to test are precisely the kind of things that are easiest to digitize, automate and outsource.

  • Executive summary

    Computer scientists are working on reproducing all human skills with computer capabilities. The development of these capabilities will have far-reaching implications for work and education.Throughout this report, the term “computers” is used to refer generally to computers, robots, and other types of information and communications technologies.

  • The challenge computers pose to work and education

    This chapter sets out the context for carrying out an exploratory project on the challenge that computer capabilities will pose for work and education in the future. The project uses the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) to carry out this exploration. An overview of existing research on past and future trends in skill demand is initially discussed. Examples are drawn mainly from economics, with additional perspectives from education and computer science. Detailing how this study aims to build upon existing research while offering a new approach, this initial chapter offers a roadmap for subsequent sections of the report.

  • Changes in skills and skill use in the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)

    This chapter offers an overview of changes in worker skills and skill use over time, based on findings from the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). Since PIAAC has been carried out only once, its results are compared with those from an earlier study, the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS). The comparison shows a decrease in the proportion of the workforce with high literacy proficiency, combined with a broad increase in the use of literacy skills at work. This picture of the change in skills over the past two decades differs from findings from economics that measure skills using wages, rather than direct assessments of skill levels.

  • Methodology for assessing computer capabilities using the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)

    This chapter describes the motivation and methodology for carrying out an exploratory assessment of computer capabilities to answer questions in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). The goal for this exercise was to develop a measure of computer capabilities that would be meaningful to educators and education researchers and also provide a credible basis for economic analysis. To achieve this goal, the OECD worked with a group of computer scientists to assess the difficulty of the PIAAC questions for computers. After setting out how the experts were chosen, the chapter describes the challenges they overcame to develop a methodology to carry out the assessment. A summary of the scope and limitations of the methodology is offered, as well as suggestions for possible future improvements.

  • Assessment of computer capabilities to answer questions in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC)

    This chapter describes the results of the exploratory assessment of current computer capabilities to answer questions from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). The expert ratings of computer performance are discussed separately for the three cognitive skill areas assessed by PIAAC: literacy, numeracy and problem solving with computers. The analysis explores several different ways of aggregating the ratings to take into account the perspectives of the different experts. A comparison is then made between human and computer capabilities to answer the PIAAC questions. The expert discussion of some individual test questions is summarised to illustrate the aspects of human performance that are difficult for computers to reproduce. Finally, ratings of projected computer capabilities in 2026 are analysed from three of the computer scientists.

  • Implications of computer capabilities for policy and research

    This chapter offers an analysis of computer capabilities in the three cognitive skill areas addressed by the Survey for Adult Skills (PIAAC), and the resulting implications for education and labour policy. Drawing upon the analysis of changes in skills and skill use over time outlined in , the chapter assesses the potential for computers to further change the use of those skills at work in the future. The assessment is based upon the judgments of the group of computer scientists set out in about the level of current computer capabilities. The Chapter concludes with suggestions for how this project could be used for future research.

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