Education in the AI Age: Conrad Wolfram

Pupils In Lecture | Wycombe Abbey

Everybody knows that we are in the middle of a new Digital Revolution, and that educationalists should think carefully about the skills their pupils need to thrive in this Brave New World. But, as Conrad Wolfram explained to a large and enthusiastic audience of Wycombe Abbey teachers and pupils, school curricula do not always keep up with the rapid changes that technology is having on society.

Apps, Algebra and Algorithms

The talk started with a demonstration of how a simple mobile phone app can perform all the algebra and calculus that pupils spend years mastering. This led to the obvious question of why so much time is spent perfecting arcane techniques that computers can do so easily, instead of learning skills which are relevant to today? What emerged through the talk is that two core 21st century skills are mathematical modelling and data interpretation. Wolfram gave a witty account of the British government’s doomed attempt to award exam grades using their ‘algorithm’, and he traced this shambles back to the failure of an education system which does not equip leaders to make good quantitative decisions.

Could a New and Invigorated Mathematics Curriculum be on the Horizon?

The highlight of the talk though was the proposed solution of a new and invigorated mathematics curriculum. Gone would be page after page of quadratic equations, in favour of relevant and interesting questions about the real world. He presented materials that were used in Estonia, when it introduced a new mathematics curriculum in 2016, for example detecting signs of fraud in data. He finished with a powerful expression of his hope that one day the British government will similarly embrace a curriculum that looks towards the future and not the past.

The speaker was incredibly generous with his time, answering numerous questions from the audience, and his passion was clear for all to see.

Mr David Vaccaro
Director of Learning and Innovation