AI and NEET’s education: Opportunities and Challenges

Calls have been made to close the IT gap between young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) and their peers, with some success made in various European countries in recent years (Bouronikos, 2023). The emergence of publicly available generative artificial intelligence (AI) pressures educators even further to rethink training provided to NEETs in order for the group not to fall further behind in terms of IT skills. AI proposes special opportunities and challenges for NEETs, while AI threatens to replace many jobs it also presents opportunities that could be particularly useful in terms of skill enhancement of NEET’s. In this article, we will examine what these changes mean for NEET’s in the context of Iceland and review some of the opportunities associated with AI for NEET’s training and education.

This wave of automation will be different

It is difficult to forecast the impact of generative AI will have on the labour market as a whole, but it will be significant. According to a recent study by Open AI and Cornell University about 80% of the workforce in the U.S. are likely to see 10% of their tasks affected and approximately 19% of workers could see 50% of their tasks impacted (Eloundou o.fl., 2023). Goldman Sachs forecasts that 25% of current work tasks in the US and Europe could be automated by AI (Briggs og Kodnani, 2023). This does not mean that one out of every four jobs will be lost since this new technology will also create new jobs, but, how many, and more to the point, how soon? Given that AI automation will in all likelihood happen at a much faster rate than previous waves of automation, there will probably be some period of adjustment with significantly increased unemployment.

Much of the discussion on youth employment has centred on education, developing marketable skills and training. The AI revolution is different in that the occupations that currently require mid to high levels of education and skills that face the highest risk of being replaced by AI (Mok & Zinkula, 2023). Both the Goldman Sachs and the Open AI studies indicate that the more training and education a job requires, the more likely it is to be highly impacted or fully automated by AI. With the addition of generative AI, even the long held belief that at least jobs in the creative sector would be safe from automation has been shattered (Torkington, 2023). According to Goldman Sachs AI has the potential to automate 26% of work tasks in the arts, design, entertainment, media and sports sectors (Briggs og Kodnani, 2023).

Jobs in the food industry or construction are good examples of jobs that will be least impacted as is typical of occupations that require low training and physical labour or less formal education. This time the automation will be about automating cognitive tasks, streamlining bureaucracies and communication and other tasks that have already been digitised.
So the question is what that means for the education of NEETs? NEETs are often heavy internet users, although they mostly use it for recreational purposes and are digitally excluded to an extent (Serrano-Cinca et al. 2018). We argue that one of the implications is that digital literacy (see Gilster, 1997) is now more important than ever and that the emergence of publicly available artificial intelligence pressures educators to rethink training provided to NEETs.

NEETs In Iceland

Icelanders sometimes say that anyone who wants to work can find work in Iceland. There is some truth to that considering the consistently low levels of unemployment, but it would be more accurate to say that anyone who is able to work could find employment. The main reasons why people drop out of the labour market in Iceland are related to psychological or physical illness (Davíð Þorláksson, 2021). While this also applies to NEETs in Iceland they are particularly disadvantaged in terms of education. 82% of unemployed 20 to 30 year old’s have no vocational or university qualifications. Moreover, the majority 65% of 20+ NEET’s in Iceland have not started or finished high school. In other words, they are suck, do not qualify for university or technical college. 10% have finished high school and most likely dropped out of university studies and 7% have finished vocational education (Vinnumálastofnun, 2023).

Challenges and new opportunities for NEETs’ training

Such low levels of education indicate that there is a need for a careful evaluation of how the education system works. Why is there such a high proportion of NEETs without high school diplomas in Iceland? And how could we help them and those who have dropped out to resume their studies and finish their degrees?

We propose that in both cases significant progress could be made with increased accessibility, such as increased supply of on demand online courses, and increased flexibility and support that AI would be able to provide. We see an opportunity to use AI to offer personalised online courses in which students can decide when to commence their learning and control its pace, which is enabled by breaking free from the strict constraints of academic semesters. The use of AI as a personalised tutor, providing students with instant feedback and problems appropriate for their skill level, has already been in use for some time (see Pappas & Drigas, 2016). Short courses have been widely available from various institutions, but the emergence of generative AI will be a game changer. One glimpse of how generative AI will radically streamline and improve the online learning experience can be seen in the cooperation between Khan Academy and OpenAI, where Kanmingo, the AI Tutor can help students, solve complex mathematical problems and philosophical ideas, like a teacher would, without providing them the answer (Khanmigo Education AI Guide, 2023).

We do not contend that AI will replace teachers or eliminate the need for human interaction with students, but rather, that it will make it possible to provide far more support and more importantly, instantly when it is needed, like having access to a tutor whenever the student is working on their assignments. This, coupled with advances in organisational structures and learning management systems will allow institutions to better manage more flexible learning, can facilitate flexible curriculums and allow students to learn at their own pace.

As we see it, the biggest hurdles in the way of progress will not be technological, but systemic. As we mentioned earlier nearly two thirds of Icelandic NEETs have not even finished high school. We think it is crucial that we use all the tools available to us to get young people back into education given changes that are foreseeable as a result of the AI revolution. Policymakers should ask themselves, whether we are willing to let rigid man-made systems leave those behind who maybe just need a bit more time and support to assimilate learning materials, or for some other reason, need to take things more slowly, when we have the technology to accommodate your needs?

It is also important to create incentives for NEETs. It is important that education authorities formalise the eco system for online courses using incentives such as micro-credentials (see Beverly, 2019). Recognised micro credentials, as a formal acknowledgement of skills attained or knowledge learned, has been demonstrated to increase students’ confidence in their abilities (LaDuca et al., 2023). We advise education authorities to design pathways for micro credentials obtained via AI tutored courses to be transferable to high school diplomas or university studies.

About the authors:

Sævar Ari Finnbogason is an adjunct lecturer at Bifröst University
Bjarki Þór Grönfeldt is a lecturer at Bifröst University.


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