Edspresso episode 1: educating for a changing World, with Leslie Loble

Black and white image of Leslie Loble looking at the camera
Image: Leslie Loble

In this introductory Edspresso episode, Leslie Loble sets the scene for the Education for a Changing World initiative and outlines the challenge for education reform in Australia.

The expert

Leslie Loble, Deputy Secretary of Education Futures and Governance in the NSW Department of Education, has:

  • Led education strategy, reform and innovation in Australia for nearly two decades.

  • Shaped and delivered many of the most important education reforms in NSW and Australia, including the ground-breaking 'Gonski' needs-based funding system.

Credits: recording and production by Jennifer Macey (Audiocraft), editing by Andy Maher, and voiceovers by Sally Kohlmayer.

Episode 1: Educating for a Changing World, with Leslie Loble

Transcript for Episode 1: Educating for a Changing World


Welcome to the Edspresso series from the New South Wales Department of Education. These short podcasts are part of the Education for A Changing World Initiative. Join us as we speak to a range of experts about how emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, are likely to change the world around us and what this might mean for education.

In this introductory episode the Deputy Secretary of the External Affairs and Regulation, Leslie Loble, explains why she started the Education for Changing World initiative. Leslie has led strategy, reform, and innovation in Australia's largest and most diverse education sector for nearly two decades, and has shaped and delivered many of the most important education reforms in New South Wales and Australia, including the ground-breaking Gonski needs-based funding system.

Leslie Loble:

I'm Leslie Loble, I'm a Deputy Secretary in the New South Wales Department of Education. AI is introducing notions of machines who can learn and indeed teach themselves. If machines can process vastly more information faster than humans can, and if AI is now being used in all sorts of applications, then that raises very, very profound questions for what students are going to learn.

I actually started thinking about this a few years ago when the discussions of AI first started to emerge outside of scientific or technical circles. And I was struck, of course, by what a profound shift it introduces. Artificial intelligence is already used in countless ways. It can diagnose breast cancer more accurately than radiologists, it can turn brain waves into speech, it can operate a car.

It has a lot of really powerful positive applications but I think we have to really be honest, it also can affect jobs. I think, really, what's emerging now is that there will be virtually no job left untouched by artificial intelligence and so this is more a question of how it changes jobs than just about replacement of jobs.

And therefore, again, it comes back to education because education is universal. Every child goes through education and every aspect of work and indeed society could possibly be touched by artificial intelligence.

We have approached this in education with a real sense of urgency. There's a lot of talk about 21st-century learning but let's remember a fifth of the 21st-century is already gone. Education for a Changing World is about future-proofing our students.

It's an exciting time to be doing that. It sits, at least in New South Wales and Australia, in a period where people are asking a lot of these questions. We have the New South Wales curriculum review, we have the national goals for schooling discussion and certainly, in the context of revised funding arrangements, we're looking at significant national educational forums.

Let me give you a bit of insight into how we're approaching thinking about what education needs to do. Firstly, there are two general tracks, one is we are engaging with a lot of Australian and international experts thinking through what are the changes we might need to make in the curriculum.

How can we support our teachers better in delivering these skills that we need to see? How do we even think about the support systems that would accelerate and enable more personalisation and use the technologies that are available elsewhere being used, for example, in health for education?

And even how schooling itself might look different. For example, we've been looking quite a bit at applied learning in structures that might give students a way to explore the challenging questions, really stimulating questions that are relevant to them. But to do that in a very deep and applied manner.

The second piece is to use innovation techniques and to integrate innovation far more into education itself.

One of the most exciting ways that we're introducing innovation into education in New South Wales, is through the creation of the Catalyst Lab. The Catalyst Lab is a dedicated centre that uses cutting edge innovation techniques and applies it to education itself. And what's perhaps most exciting about the Catalyst Lab is that we have a terrific mechanism where the voice of teachers and students, their ideas, their innovations can not only be brought out very, very quickly. But we can then move it through a highly structured and rigorous innovation process that produces results in a fraction of the time than it would normally take.

Our frame is primarily anchored around the following - literacy and numeracy is absolutely essential to access learning, without literacy and numeracy you can't learn. But thinking skills and by that, I mean computational thinking, critical thinking, ethical thinking and indeed what the educationalists and cognitive scientists called metacognition.

These thinking skills are access to knowledge. If we stop just at literacy and numeracy, we would not be fulfilling our mission for education. Because it's those thinking skills that allow students, and indeed all of us well beyond our schooling years, to understand information, to interpret that information, to apply that information. To challenge it at times and indeed to create our own information.

So, I might talk a little bit about what I mean by, for example, computational thinking. A great deal of attention is being spent looking at STEM and there's a lot of talk about how students need to acquire coding skills. All of that sits within computational thinking, but computational thinking is a broader, deeper concept. It involves understanding how those mathematically based processes work. It actually is a skill we all need.

Lyria Bennett Moses talks in her Edspresso, about the way algorithms and machine learning, are used in law enforcement. So, in the US, for example, sentencing of criminals is based, in some cases, on algorithms. And what she wants her law students to do and indeed all of us, is to understand the computational thinking that sits underneath that because if you don't understand how algorithms work and what data sources are potentially being used, then you may interpret something one way. But if you do understand that, you could interpret that differently.

We're exploring all of these questions and more through our Edspressos and our papers with people like Toby Walsh, who has raised profound questions for Australia about things like autonomous weapons systems, and how are we going to set up the ethical frameworks and indeed, potentially, the legal frameworks around those.

I mentioned Lyria Bennett Moses, who comes at it particularly from her legal perspective. There's also Sandy Plunkett who has worked for years in the IT industry and brings to our work a great perspective on Silicon Valley but also where technology and STEM is headed. We've got Sandra Lynch, who's an expert in applied ethics and values and she firmly believes that even things like philosophy can be taught to younger children. And that early critical thinking skills can be developed.

If I was to select one thinking skill, that was absolutely essential, it would be critical thinking. As Peter Ellerton, who both wrote a paper for us and is part of our Edspresso series has said, critical thinking is how we look at a set of information and then how we, perhaps, develop a hypothesis about that, based on our own knowledge, our own experience.

But then it involves a process of testing that, that can be through cognitive processes to test that but importantly if we are ready to do it well, it's actually a social process, where we are taking information and perspectives from others. It is through all of these processes that we can indeed think deeply and critically about what is our increasingly complex world.

I started this by talking about how machines are developing very, very significant capabilities that we think of as, indeed, cognitive capabilities. But the human qualities will always remain paramount and that human quality is very much anchored on elements like creativity. Now, creativity can embrace the arts but creativity also embraces wonderful new ideas and that can be in the sciences or, indeed, philosophy or great literature.

What's also becoming increasingly clear is that, while sometimes in the curriculum they are labelled general capabilities because they do operate across content areas, they are connected to the knowledge, they are not abstract, they're not free-floating, they're fundamentally connected to knowledge.

And indeed Daisy Christodoulou, in her Edspresso, talks quite explicitly about that and how it's important that while we draw out these qualities very clearly, we need to have it attached to content. Chris Cawsey, one of our leading principals, who has shaped a great deal of education in New South Wales and indeed the country for many years. She talks about how content matters, and while she's introduced into Rooty Hill High School very innovative approaches to integrating things like creativity analysis, it absolutely is tied to explicit teaching of both of general capabilities and content.

We also reached out to Ron Beghetto, who is an international expert in creativity and he firmly believes that it can be taught. It needs to be taught well and it enables students to deepen their academic knowledge and to put it to use. He emphasises that creative thinking is domain specific and that there is a difference between the creativity that's involved in writing a piece of fiction, as compared to the creativity that might be in tackling a chemistry question.

And so there are elements that are universal because it applies across all learning but it must be taught in the context of knowledge and that's what the experts are telling us.

If I had to go back and do one different thing in my education to prepare myself better for where I am today, I would take my maths education further. It's because the skills in mathematical thinking are just absolutely essential in interpreting so much of what's around us today. It's less about being able to do the mechanics of trigonometry and more about being able to interpret the mathematical information that bombards us every single day in different ways.

I wouldn't give different advice to students today in terms of maths but I would tell students to read extensively and widely, it's by reading all sorts of things, exposing ourselves to wider points of view, thinking about those, deciding whether we agree or disagree and sharing that with others.

Not only does that increase our knowledge, not only does that increase our thinking skills but perhaps most importantly of all, it gives us empathy and deeper understanding and tolerance, and acceptance, and all those qualities that are so, so important.

It's through all of these educational reforms we're trying to do in Education for a Changing World, that not only do we see the urgent job ahead of us to prepare students for the skills and capabilities they'll need to navigate the 21st-century in an economic sense, we also very much see this as the capacity to navigate what lies ahead in a social and community sense.


Thank you for listening to this episode of the Edspresso series. You can find out more about the Education for a Changing World initiative via the New South Wales Department of Education's website. There you can sign up to our mailing list or join our conversation on Twitter @Education2040.

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