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Thinking skills in an AI world: preparing students to shape their future

A joint panel discussion hosted by the NSW Department of Education and the UNSW Sydney Grand Challenges Program.

4 December 2018

Drawing on the expertise of leading UNSW academics, as well as other experts engaged in the Education for a Changing World initiative including from industry, this panel discussion explored what students might need to thrive in an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-future, and some of the critical questions this raises for today’s education systems, such as:

  • What types of human intelligence and thinking skills will young people need to leverage the opportunities that advancements in artificial intelligence will bring, as well as to minimise the potential risks?
  • How can we ensure that students have the capacity to critically and ethically engage with these new technologies which will increasingly impact on their lives?
  • How best do we prepare these future citizens in the face of greater complexity and a more demanding world?
  • What might education need to do differently to ensure students are able to positively shape their world?

The event was live streamed on Facebook. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and #thinkingforthefuture.


Toby Walsh

Toby Walsh is Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence at UNSW Sydney and Data61. He has been elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. He has won several other awards including the NSW Premier's Prize for Excellence in Engineering and ICT and the Humboldt Research Award. His latest book, "2062: The World that AI Made" was published in September 2018 by Black Inc. Prof. Walsh is a leading voice in the discussion around the societal impact of Artificial Intelligence, and is a passionate advocate for limits to ensure AI is used to improve, not hurt, our lives.

Lyria Bennett Moses

Lyria Bennett Moses is an Associate Professor and Director of the Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation at UNSW Law. She leads the UNSW Grand Challenge on Living with 21st Century Technology, is a Key Researcher and Project Leader on the Data to Decisions CRC, and is a 2017-2018 PLuS Alliance Fellow.

Peter Ellerton

Peter Ellerton lectures at the University of Queensland in Critical Thinking and is the founding Director of the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project. He is former Head of Experimental Sciences at the Queensland Academy of Science, Mathematics and Technology. Peter is also an advisor to the International Baccalaureate Organisation on the development of the new Nature of Science subject and has advised on the structure of all the new science syllabus materials. Peter is currently working with the European Commission Joint research Centre on the public understanding of science.

Christine Cawsey

Christine Cawsey AM FACEL is a past president and a life member of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council (NSWSPC). She is the current principal (1997 - ) of Rooty Hill High School, a highly successful, comprehensive secondary school in the western suburbs of Sydney, recognised as one of the 40 Most Innovative Schools in Australia by Educator Magazine in 2016 and 2017. In 2007, Christine was a winner in the National Awards for Quality Schooling for Excellence by a Principal and in April 2008, her book, Learning for Leadership, written with Michelle Anderson from ACER was published. She believes her work as a principal is the most important work she can do as a systems leader.

Sandy Plunkett

Sandy is a leading commentator and analyst specialising in the global technology arena. She has 25 years’ experience in Australia and internationally and has worked in media, venture capital and with a Silicon Valley startup that went public on Nasdaq. Sandy has written extensively for media and is a contributing author to landmark global research on innovations systems, policy, and practicefor the World Economic Forum and Stanford University. Sandy returned to Australia five years ago and has a passion for fostering the growth of Australia’s innovation culture and the management capability needed to lead and sustain it. She is currently writing a book exploring Australia’s response to the digital age.

Moderator: Leslie Loble, Deputy Secretary of External Affairs and Regulation

Leslie is responsible for national and cross-sectoral developments in education as they affect New South Wales, she leads negotiations with the Commonwealth over education policy and funding for schooling and early childhood education, and chairs the national Schools Policy Group on behalf of Australian Education Ministers and agency heads. She is responsible for strategic innovation in NSW education, and guides early childhood policy and funding, policy on non-government schooling, and strategic policy in higher education and tertiary learning. Leslie has a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University. Prior to joining the Department of Education Executive, Leslie was appointed by President Bill Clinton to several key roles including as Chief of Staff to Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich.

Previous events

Future Frontiers: Educating for 2040

26 June 2018

A panel of academics, practitioners and business personalities discussed the implications for education of emerging developments in artificial intelligence and other trends.

The event launched a report commissioned by the NSW Department of Education from Professor John Buchanan and a team from the University of Sydney. The report, 'Education: Future Frontiers – Preparing for the best and worst of times', explores the important question of what predicted changes in artificial intelligence and other emerging transformations might mean for education and our schools helping to prepare young people for this future world.

The panel featured:

  • Professor John Buchanan – Head of the Discipline of Business Analytics, Sydney University
  • Dr Sandra Peter – Director, Sydney Business Insights, Sydney University
  • Professor Rafael Calvo – ARC Future Fellow and Director of the Software Engineering Group,  Sydney University
  • Stacey Quince – Principal, Campbelltown Performing Arts High School
  • Emma Hogan – NSW Public Service Commissioner

The event was live streamed on Facebook. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and #futurefrontiers.

Education for a Changing World Symposium

The Education for a Changing World Symposium brought together more than 200 practitioners and policy makers in education, academia and industry over one and a half days to explore learning in the time of artificial intelligence (AI).

Symposium participants discussed the implications of AI and related technologies for life and work, and the education reforms that may need to be set in motion now to ensure we best prepare young people to successfully navigate a more complex world.

Watch the recording of the livestream, and see other content from the day here

Read the symposium summary (PDF 3901.79KB)


The Secretary convened four roundtable discussions in 2017 with leaders from business and industry, higher education, school leaders and students to discuss the potential impact of AI and other technologies on the nature of work and how to best prepare young people for a more challenging future.

A number of important themes emerged from these strategic discussions, including:

  • employment is changing in unpredictable ways
  • students need to develop deep knowledge and key ‘soft’ skills
  • STEM skills are important to the future workforce
  • innovation can be found throughout the NSW public school system
  • technology needs to be well integrated into schools to support teaching and learning.

Read the roundtable summary (PDF 864.47KB)

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