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【An overview of GSE2023】Building a Smart Education Ecosystem to Promote Lifelong Learning Opportunities for All

Pubdate:2023.9.14. 14:14 Author:editorSource:Beijing Normal University

Building a Smart Education Ecosystem to Promote Lifelong Learning Opportunities for All

– An Overview of the 2023 Global Smart Education Conference


Smart education represents a profound transformation of education and concerns the future of humanity.

Quality education and lifelong learning should benefit everyone as a public good.

The 2023 Global Smart Education Conference organized by Beijing Normal University and UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (UNESCO IITE) was held in Beijing from August 18 to 20, where representatives from 40 countries and 16 international organizations gathered to discuss the future of human education. Over 300 domestic and international guests and over 1,300 representatives aired their views freely and drew a blueprint for smart education.

The conference made us deeply feel that the global wave of digital transformation of education is unstoppable, the power of technology in enabling education is increasingly strong, the calls and demands for data governance are becoming more urgent, the vision of a wisdom life through smart education is growing stronger, and international cooperation in education is deepening.

Smart education: An inevitable choice for advancing equitable quality education

Education is the cornerstone of human civilization and the driving force behind societal advancement.

The world today is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century. Intelligent technologies represented by artificial intelligence (AI) open up new prospects for education but also bring challenges in terms of educational concepts, teaching methods, learning styles and education governance models. Therefore, education must accurately identify changes, take the initiative to seek them and actively respond to them. “Transformation” became a keyword frequently mentioned by experts and representatives at the conference.

This great transformation will affect every individual and should benefit humanity. UNESCO proposed that it’s important to highlight education as a global public good, and the UN Transforming Education Summit emphasized that digital transformation should benefit all learners. Many countries have released digital development strategies and made education an important component thereof. China initiated its strategic action for educational digitalization in 2022 and has integrated and launched online the Smart Education of China platform which brings together the best digital educational resources in the country to benefit 291 million students and other learners in society at large. As a model of public portals for digital learning, the platform won the 2022 UNESCO ICT in Education Prize.

If the digital transformation of education is a digitalization process involving all factors, processes, services and fields within the education system, then smart education that holds people’s high expectations for future education is the target form of the digital transformation of education. “As a new form of education in the digital age, smart education is an inevitable choice for us to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” said H.E. Mr CHEN Jie, Vice Minister of Education of China and Director of National Commission of the People’s Republic of China for UNESCO.

During the conference, representatives from various countries and international organizations presented initiatives and experience in promoting educational development, bridging the digital divide and reducing learning poverty with information technologies. H.E. Mrs Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology of Mauritius, presented the Government of Mauritius’s efforts in promoting lifelong learning through technology and called for international cooperation in technology to strengthen lifelong learning supported by technology. H.E. Mr Azat Atayev, Deputy Minister of Education of Turkmenistan, stated that Turkmenistan is working to transform education through new initiatives such as creating the Concept for the Development of a Digital Education System, using teaching methods that integrate new technologies and supporting educational decision-making with data analytics. Mr Mahmoud Zouaoui, Representative of the Tunisian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Director of the General Office, presented the digital platform projects and educational information systems in higher education in his country, “These new initiatives can enable researchers, teachers and students to better utilize technology for learning, use resources efficiently and narrow the digital divide, and even help policymakers and teachers make scientific decisions, improve the quality of education and facilitate the development of smart education.” H.E. Dr Susil Premajayantha, Minister of Education of Sri Lanka, introduced Sri Lanka’s educational development and exploration of promoting education transformation with information technologies.

Smart education has started a new chapter in the development of education. The connotations, characteristics and development paths of smart education are important issues of concern in academia and are among the core topics of the conference. Many experts shared their latest thoughts on smart education during the conference. Professor CHEN Li from Beijing Normal University explained the fundamental principles of how the Internet promotes education transformation, proposed the philosophical thought of Internet + Education and revealed the teaching law of Internet + Education. During the release of his new book, Future Education Transformed by Artificial Intelligence, Professor HUANG Ronghuai, Co-Dean of the Smart Learning Institute of Beijing Normal University, presented concepts of education for the age of intelligence, including the crowdsourced and shared knowledge, the intelligently connected and structured learning, the integrated and open curriculum, and the human-AI collaborative teaching. According to Professor ZHU Zhiting, a tenured professor at East China Normal University, smart education should create a technologically integrated learning ecosystem and provide smart learning, smart assessment and smart services to learners using data wisdom, teaching wisdom and cultural wisdom. According to Mr SHAN Zhiguang, Director of the Department of Informatization and Industry Development, State Information Center, smart education is a transformation and upgrade of education and its foundation lies in digital education, interest-based education, psychological education and talent education. The core of developing smart education lies in idea innovation, data driving, intelligent optimization and model reengineering, with new-generation information and communication technologies (ICTs) used to reshape and restructure paradigms, thereby reconstructing scenarios, operations and services.

Academia’s theoretical construction for smart education is still underway, and this process may continue as technology advances. However, one thing is clear: smart education will break through the temporal and spatial constraints of traditional education so that everyone can learn whenever and wherever they want, and smart education will greatly promote the building of a learning society where lifelong learning is pursued by all. “The 21st century belongs to lifelong learners. UN SDG 4 is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030,” said Professor Asha S. Kanwar, President and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning. Mr MO Yan, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and professor at Beijing Normal University, stated that lifelong learning becomes extremely important in the age of intelligence. “We must keep pace with the times and keep track of and learn new things to avoid being obliterated by the times.”

At the Forum on Educational Digitalization and Lifelong Learning, Mr Mohamed Ould Amar, Director-General of the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), presented the AI and education-related projects ALECSO is promoting. “We hold Arab Code Week to promote the popularization of programming culture in the Arab world. We use blockchain technology to verify university degree certificates to help students pursue advanced studies and get employed successfully. We have also launched an education platform to guide the younger generation into the Metaverse and the world of NFTs.”

Three academicians discussed talent cultivation in higher education in the age of intelligence during the conference. Academician LV Jian from the Chinese Academy of Sciences proposed the integration of “the way of educating people, the way of the Great Learning and the way of the times” and shared the practical experience of Nanjing University providing core support for high-quality cultivation of talents through high-level disciplines. Academician ZHANG Jun from the Chinese Academy of Engineering stated that the new relations of production formed by people, materials and machines in the future will drive smart education toward “green education”, namely a new form of education that truly makes learning ubiquitous and innovation constantly emerge. He also presented Beijing Institute of Technology’s building of a comprehensive system for smart education and innovation in cultivating top-notch innovative talents. According to Academician CHEN Xiaohong from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, to meet the challenges of digital intelligence technology, colleges and universities should focus on multidisciplinary and innovative education and cultivate innovative, entrepreneurial, applied and compound high-level talents through innovation in teaching space, teaching models, teaching resources and teaching evaluation.

Widely used AI in social life will replace a large number of human workers, leading to new structural unemployment. Therefore, workers must improve themselves to adapt to the changing times. Vocational education and skill training will accompany workers throughout their careers, and the concept of lifelong learning will gradually take root in people’s minds. Experts have emphasized the great urgency of transforming vocational education and that digital technology should be fully employed and the cultivation of high-quality skilled talents should be focused on in vocational education. Mr SUN Shanxue, member of the Strategic Advisory Committee for Strong Education Country Construction of the Ministry of Education, member of the Expert Advisory Committee for Educational Digitalization of the Ministry of Education and professor from the Graduate School of Education of Beijing Foreign Studies University, proposed that a new digital ecosystem for vocational colleges should be built and the digital literacy and skills of vocational college teachers should be defined, so as to promote high-quality vocational education. Professor WANG Libing, Director a.i., Chief of Section for Educational Innovation and Skills Development (EISD), UNESCO Multisectoral Regional Office in Bangkok, shared key strategies for advancing vocational education & training and skill development. Professor ZENG Tianshan, Deputy Director of the Center for Vocational Education Development, Ministry of Education, P.R. China, shared views on reform on teachers, textbooks and teaching methods in vocational education empowered by digitalization, i.e., changes to teachers, textbooks and teaching methods in the background of digital transformation.

The TVET Leadership and Management Benchmarking Programme was held during the Global Smart Education Conference, to promote social, economic, educational, and cultural development in China and Southeast Asian countries and deepen cooperation in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) between the two sides. Officials from education authorities and principals and administrators of vocational colleges from eight countries, including Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste, discussed how to construct a more effective and flexible TVET system using digital technology and innovative approaches, and they went on field trips and paid visits to some places.

Strategic planning: A grand blueprint for digital transformation

The new round of sci-tech revolution and industrial changes is rapidly evolving and is reconstructing the educational ecosystem and vision. A focus on strategic planning for AI and rational design of a policy framework for smart education will be the support and guarantee for promoting teaching innovation and accelerating digital transformation. H.E. Mr CHEN Jie, Vice Minister of Education, stated that developing smart education is a major project in education transformation. It requires huge investment and will produce a far-reaching impact, and it necessitates systematic and scientific planning as well as effective policy measures. “Technology shall be integrated into a broader government strategy, so as to effectively address the continuing educational challenges. The planning and management ability of the education system shall be improved to enhance the digital ability of students, educators and all participants in the education system. In this way, they can successfully interact with technology in a responsible manner,” said Dr Martín Benavides, Director of the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP).

During the Forum on Educational Digitalization Strategy and Policy Planning, experts shared their understanding of educational digitalization strategy and policy planning and their latest practical explorations in the digital transformation of education. Ms SONG Shanping, Executive Dean of the China Institute of Education and Social Development, said, “The formulation of macro policies should fully consider the inclusiveness of education and ensure that digital educational resources are available to every learner and that every child can equally access opportunities brought by digital education.” Professor ZHANG Zhiyong, Director of the Education Situation Survey Center, a national high-end think tank at Beijing Normal University, stated that the deepening of comprehensive education reform requires accelerating the reform of education-related government performance evaluation, advancing the reform of the basic education system, promoting digital education empowerment, deepening the reform of the examination and enrollment system, establishing a modern education governance system and strengthening educational expenditure guarantees, so as to advance the building of a leading country in education with high quality. Mr Raúl Valdés-Cotera, Team Leader of the UNESCO Lifelong Learning Policies and Strategies Programme of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, proposed expanding the opportunities for receiving higher education through digital technology. He said, “Many universities and higher education institutions (HEIs) have been strategically using online learning tools to provide learning opportunities for more learners, especially marginalized and vulnerable groups. Promoting the exchanges of higher education knowledge, experience and resources within and between countries is crucial to strengthening technology’s support for education and expanding access and diversity.” Ms Harlena Harris, Program Director of the APEC Human Resources Development Working Group, said, “Successful education requires policy design, determination and capability building, which is very challenging.” She stated that it’s important to empower ideas through technology, so as to transform the education model. Mr Andreas Schleicher, Director for the Directorate of Education and Skill, OECD, advocated study in the digital world.

From the perspective of practice, the impact of national strategic planning and macro policies on education is beginning to show on regional education transformation. Mr ZHANG Xuezheng, Deputy Director of the Education and Sports Bureau of Xigong District, Luoyang City, Henan Province, stated that smart education gives “wings” to the quality and balanced development of regional compulsory education and contributes to the high-quality development of education in Xigong District. Mr HOU Yuandong, Director of the Wenzhou Education Technology Center, Zhejiang Province, presented the “digital brain” for education in Wenzhou and said, “Wenzhou has built an integrated application platform called ‘Studious Wenzhou’, created a cross-departmental and cross-level education coordination mechanism and constructed a smart education ecosystem.”

Technology empowerment: Strong impetus to education transformation

ChatGPT’s going viral has made AI foundation models known to the public for the first time. ChatGPT can generate high-quality text, images, videos, etc. through deep learning of massive data. The penetration and widespread use of generative AI in the field of education will produce a great impact on teaching models, learning styles, evaluation methods, etc. and make the ethical issues of AI applications in education more complex. The enormous potential and broad application prospects of foundation models have attracted widespread attention. Two forums on generative AI attracted the attention of numerous participants during the conference.

“Generative AI and foundation model technology are developing toward high complexity, high efficiency and integration with other AI technologies,” said Professor WU Fati, Dean of the School of Educational Technology, Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University. He said, “AI applications in education will help enhance the personalized learning experience, create adaptive learning environments, spark inspiration and creation and contribute to human-machine collaborative teaching and high-quality educational resource creation.” Professor John Shawe-Taylor, Director of the International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence under UNESCO and professor at University College London, emphasized the need to promote the integration of AI and education in a human-centric approach. Professor Neil Selwyn from Monash University delivered a keynote speech titled AI and the Future of Education – Moving from Reckless Hype toward Realistic Hopes. According to him, we should take a rational and cautious approach to AI’s impact on education, “Excessive hype and complete banning are undesirable.” He analyzed the boundaries, principles and future scenarios of AI applications in education and emphasized that close attention should be paid to social criticisms and concerns regarding AI applications in education. Professor HUANG Hua, Dean of the School of Artificial Intelligence, Beijing Normal University, reviewed the development history of AI and generative AI, analyzed generative AI’s significant impact on education with examples, including teaching plan generation, homework correcting, intelligent question setting and solving and search functionality, and pointed out problems and challenges of generative AI in personalization and complex reasoning.

A Human-machine Dialogue activity was specially held at the Forum on Generative Artificial Intelligence and Futures of Education, where experts in the field of smart education, teachers and students were invited to dialogue with four different AI foundation models and answer questions and participate in discussions synchronously with machines. Professor JIAO Jianli, Director of the Future Education Research Center at South China Normal University, pointed out 10 challenges facing the applications of generative AI in education, and student ZHONG Zixiao from Kangding No. 2 Middle School in Kangding City, Sichuan Province and student ZHOU Runzhou from Sanhe Town Central Primary School in Tiantai County, Taizhou City, Zhejiang Province raised interesting questions, such as “What role will AI play in the future?”, “Will AI replace my teacher?” and “Are there really aliens in the world?”

Generative foundation models provide new ideas and methods for psychological assessment research. At the Forum on Generative AI Large Models and Psychological Assessment, internationally renowned experts and industry practitioners were invited to share their research results, practical experience and innovative ideas in this field. Professor John Rust from the University of Cambridge presented the impact of AI on psychometrics, and Professor FAN Jinyan from the Psychology Department at Auburn University explained how to optimize personality assessments in scenarios such as recruitment interviews based on personalized data generated by AI chatbots. Professor LUO Fang from Beijing Normal University shared automated scoring attempts based on foundation models, and Assistant Professor Yeun Joon Kim from Cambridge Judge Business School analyzed the prospects for AI creativity and stated that the correct use of ChatGPT will lead to greater innovation capabilities in human-machine cooperation.

“Digital transformation represents the general trend and is a profound self-reform,” said Professor ZHOU Aoying, Vice President of East China Normal University at the Forum on Technology-Empowered Educational Transformation. He said, “Developing educational technology is the fundamental path to achieving the digital transformation of education. This means using data empowerment and sci-tech assistance to promote the digital transformation of education and realize the beautiful vision of smart education.” Mr Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), emphasized the need to teach the principles and application skills of AI to young people, so as to help them find solutions to problems using AI, and said, “It’s important to prepare young people so they can collaborate in teams under conditions of human-machine synergy.” Professor LI Yanyan from Beijing Normal University stated that the construction of a high-quality education system is in urgent need of the intelligent upgrading of learning environments and three-dimensional comprehensive teaching fields should be built to construct learner-centric learning environments and deliver precise learning services. “Cloud-edge-end collaborative multimodal perception will strengthen multidimensional monitoring of learning states, full-chain analysis of the learning process will help with precision teaching decision-making, cross-field integration will support multi-granularity learner portrait depicting and human-machine synergy will empower adaptive learning support and services,” said Professor LI Yanyan.

The Forum on Digital Campus and Intelligent Educational Equipment focused on the core issue of solidly advancing the construction of new infrastructure for education and shoring up the digital foundation of a high-quality education system, where experts discussed topics, including digital campus construction standards and applications, intelligent educational equipment and technical solutions, intelligent educational product evaluations and industry-university-research collaborative innovation. Mr LI Ying, Secretary General of China Educational Equipment Industry Association (CEEIA), remarked that educational equipment is the physical foundation for education modernization. It provides a key guarantee for the promotion of equity and high quality in education in the new era, as well as for the development of innovative talents. He called for an accelerated standardization of educational equipment and the use of such standards as a strategic resource so that educational innovations have a role to play. Educational equipment will thus become a bridge for industrialization and commercial application of innovations. Ms YANG Fei, Deputy Director of the Center for Educational Technology and Resource Development of Ministry of Education (National Center for Educational Technology, NCET), presented the development and application of the Smart Education of China platform for primary and secondary schools. Professor YU Shengquan of Beijing Normal University shared his thoughts and practices on the construction of a smart campus service ecosystem. Professor HU Xiaoyong, Executive Vice President of the Institute of Artificial Intelligence in Education, South China Normal University, gave a presentation on the research results of collaborative innovation between the industry, academia and university on scenario-oriented AI in education.

For the future, Mr ZHAO Qinping, Academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering, said that the connected objects of “IoE of Virtual-Real Convergence” will be extended to the digital twins of physical objects, human incarnations and digitally native objects. It would open up a space full of hope, where human beings survive and travel freely in the physical and digital worlds at the same time. In the future, VR 2.0 will be integrated into a new generation of learning environment to better help learners learn easily, lovingly and effectively.

A group of business representatives shared their best cases and solutions in driving the digital transformation of education with information technology. They were from companies such as NetDragon Websoft, China Unicom, iFlytek, Tsinghua Unigroup MoEdu, H3C Group, Baidu, Huawei, Alibaba Cloud, Jing Shi Rui Dao, 17 Education & Technology Group, Tencent Education, Onion Academy, Squirrel Ai Learning, OUR SCHOOL, Purity in Zixi, Rokid, and Kingsha Tech. During the conference, the “Smart Education Exhibition” was also held in parallel, where many companies displayed their latest smart education products and services.

Data governance: A strong guarantee for sustainable development

Under the theme of “Education Transformation and Data Governance” and through holding the Forum on Data Governance and Cognitive Development, the conference expressed a strong interest in the issue of sustainable development in education. Data governance, data decision-making, data management, data-related legislation and regulation, etc., experts, scholars and business people from universities, research institutes, technology companies and other fields related to digital governance in education from all over the world engaged in an in-depth discussion on these issues from different perspectives.

“We will establish a full-life-cycle data security governance system, which involves a sound data security classification and grading system, a detailed data authority management mechanism, and an enhanced awareness of data security among users,” said Mr LEI Chaozi, Director General of the Department of Science, Technology and Informatization of the Ministry of Education, “The Chinese government will continue to pursue deep and profound actions in line with the national strategy of educational digitalization, facilitating change and innovation in education through the development and use of big data in education.” As such, Ms Anamarija Viček, State Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of Serbia, shared her views on the digital evolution and transformation of education, as well as the progress and successes of digital governance in Serbia. Professor Mammo Muchie, Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, advocated that the international community should work together to build a cyberspace and a cyberspace community of a shared future of peace, security, openness, cooperation and order.

Mr LIU Ting, Vice President of Harbin Institute of Technology, took ChatGPT as an example to show a big AI model and its application. “ChatGPT could be the first and the only major invention in the history of mankind so far where the exact principle is unknown,” as he put it, “ChatGPT is an outpouring of intelligence that makes dramatic breakthroughs in online retention of immense information, conversational comprehension of arbitrary tasks, mental reasoning of complex logic, text generation, and learning and evolution of instantaneous new knowledge.” In his opinion, the future of big model development lies in the application of industry private data to construct a big model of the industry or of the scene. Professor CHEN Guangju, Vice Chairman of Beijing Normal University Alumni Association and former Vice President of BNU, provided his insight that in the process of educational digitalization superimposed on the rapid development of AI technology, data has emerged as a core component in which learning is increasingly taking place in an Internet environment. “And, the key to the digital transformation of education lies in the acquisition of real data, the scientific design of underlying algorithms, the efficient and energy-saving use of arithmetic networks, and the practice of diverse and effective governance.” Ms MENG Ying, Director of the Longhua District Education Bureau of Shenzhen, shared the development path of AI education in the district. Longhua District launched the first district-level AI education program in Shenzhen, with high-tech industries as the core and a balance of modern service industries and advanced manufacturing industries, which is a pattern characterized by “1+4+N”. To make the effect of AI education better and to train top innovative talents, initiatives were introduced in Longhua District to prepare innovative curricula, to create special educational resources, to optimize its platform’s supportive functions, to develop the faculty, to provide incentives for young people to practice and innovate, and to take a step further in interdisciplinary education. Ms WANG Xiaoli, Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), gave a brief introduction on the evolution of cloud-network convergence technology and the trend of its application in global education. Professor TANG Yayang, Secretary of the Party Committee of Hunan University of Science and Technology, presented his research findings on the Smart Education of China platform for primary and secondary schools to empower the quality development of basic education. Dr TONG Lili, Deputy Director of the Educational Informatization Strategy Research Base (Beijing) of the Ministry of Education and Associate Professor of Beijing Normal University, provided her analysis on the new path of cognitive development driven by AIGC.

As Professor Shahbaz Khan, Director of the UNESCO Office in China, said, “The complex applications of technology in education have to be evaluated holistically. AI must be human-centered, aiming to serve and empower people, and be ethical, avoiding discrimination and following ethical guidelines such as fairness, transparency, and interpretability.”

The efficiency of regional management and the effectiveness of education were improved thanks to the construction of the data center as well as the standardized data governance. According to Mr GU Ruihua, Director of the Suzhou Online Education Center in Jiangsu Province, “With the mutual authentication and request-free call of e-Cert licenses across ranks and departments, school clerks are now able to execute one-stop approval for enrollment without face-to-face meetings with parents.” Ms ZHANG Ying, Chief Supervisor of Education of the Chenghua District People’s Government of Chengdu, Sichuan Province, said, “To fulfill the requirements of the national strategy in data governance and the pursuit of quality and even development of regional education, we have focused our efforts on data-supported teaching, learning, research, management, and evaluation. The whole region is pushing for optimization and innovation in the construction of the integrated district-school platform as well as the management and applications of it on a continuous basis.”

Regional transformation: A practical exploration of build a new educational ecosystem

The “Smart Education Demonstration Zone Creation Project” initiated by the Ministry of Education is a move towards the realization of smart education, as well as an exploration and experiment in the reform and development of education in China. Regional development is about the implementation of the national strategy for education at a large scale and the interests of teachers and students at a small scale. The Forum on the New Ecology of Regional Smart Education and the Forum on the Digital Transformation of Regional Education, were thus the most attended and the most popular at the conference.

The experts present at the conference discussed in depth what characteristics should be given to this smart education demonstration zone and what mechanisms should be adopted for the sustainable development of smart education in the region. Moreover, they shared their views on how to digitalize education to create an alternative path for education development and to map out a new pattern. Mr REN Changshan, Director of the Educational Informatization and Network Security Office, part of the Department of Science, Technology and Informatization of the Ministry of Education, released the “2023 List of Outstanding Smart Education Cases” and the “2022 Smart Education Casebook”. Professor ZHU Zhiting gave a keynote report titled “The Development of Smart Education Theory and Practice in China”. Research Chair Professor Chee-Kit Looi in Learning Sciences of The Education University of Hong Kong remarked that teacher readiness and AI literacy enhancement are the key paths for the digital transformation of education. Ms MA Li, Deputy Director of the Department of Education of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, shared the provincial best practice of leading the development of quality and balanced basic education through digitalization. Mr CUI Changhong, Deputy Director General of the Sichuan Provincial Department of Education and Level I Department Rank Official, shared Sichuan’s best practices in digital transformation of education with the topic of “Promoting Quality and Balance in Education with Digital Empowerment”. He underlined that it is necessary to prioritize needs and effectiveness to inspire transformation, which is a solution to the conflict between high-quality development of education and uneven development between regions, urban and rural areas, and schools.

Haidian District of Beijing, Wenzhou City of Zhejiang Province, Nanchang City of Jiangxi Province, Minhang District of Shanghai, and Wuhan City of Hubei Province are the sites where the “Smart Education Demonstration Zone Creation Project” works. Representatives from those sites presented their approaches in exploring the circumstances, models, services, and reforms of governance mechanisms that support smart education. It was evident that they were effectively adapting to local conditions and demonstrating great innovation in their practices. Ms DU Rongzhen, Director of Haidian District Education Commission of Beijing, talked about the effectiveness and experience of Haidian in driving forward the construction of a new ecosystem of smart education in the context of digital transformation across four dimensions: construction, application, integration and innovation. ” Haidian District has brought about an effective convergence between the educative essence of education and the innovative features of digitalization. In particular, initiatives have been taken such as upgrading the digital support environment, creating characteristic smart campuses, encouraging innovation in teaching and learning modes, and making high-quality educational resources widely available. It thus taps into the inherent potential of smart education in terms of environment, tools and resources”, said Mr HUANG Yan, Director of the Nanchang Municipal Education Bureau of Jiangxi Province, shared the Nanchang practices of data-led modernization of education governance, “Nanchang strives to provide better science education. In particular, it empowers the optimization of schooling and governance mechanisms with enrollment data, the integration of school and social resources with practice data, and the innovation of teaching and assessment systems with academic data.”

Representatives from educational departments in Bengbu City of Anhui Province, Guangzhou City of Guangdong Province, Wuhou District of Chengdu City of Sichuan Province, and Suzhou City of Jiangsu Province engaged in a dialog on the opportunities and challenges of in-depth smart education development.

Representatives from educational departments in Changsha of Hunan Province, Baoshan District and Changning District of Shanghai, Yichang of Hubei Province, Liangjiang District of Chongqing, Fuzhou of Jiangxi Province, Erdos of Inner Mongolia, and Fuzhou of Fujian Province shared their best practices in constructing a favorable digitalization system that empowers high-quality education. Mr SUN Chuangui, Director of Changsha Municipal Education Bureau of Hunan Province, presented an exploration of smart technology to empower the reform of value-added evaluation of education quality in Changsha’s general secondary schools. Changsha has integrated the latest information technology, such as big data and AI, into the comprehensive evaluation of education quality in general secondary schools, with a view to detailing the evaluation index system, developing evaluation and analysis models, and stepping up the application of evaluation results. This initiative has solved bottlenecks in conducting comprehensive evaluations, handling value-added evaluations, and applying evaluation results. Changning District is the first experimental zone for the digital transformation of education in Shanghai. “Focusing on the three keywords of base, data, and ecology, Changning District has embarked on a feasible path to promote the digital transformation of ‘standardization + personalization’ education throughout the district,” said Ms XIONG Qiuju, Director of the Education Bureau of Changning District, Shanghai. By seizing the strategic opportunity of smart city construction, building an “educational brain”, strengthening the foundation of the education center, and improving the level of education governance, Yichang of Hubei Province has innovated educational application scenarios and continuously promoted the digital transformation of education. Moreover, Ms DENG Yuhua, Director of the Education Bureau of Yichang, shared the experience of developing smart education in Yichang.

The balanced development of regional education cannot be separated from the revitalization of rural education. “Technology-enabled education and economic imbalance between regions should not be limiting factors for children’s future development. We should break down barriers and strive to enable students from all regions to engage in smart learning with technical support,” said Mr YANG Yinfu, Vice President and Secretary General of the Chinese Society of Education. With the core theme of equity and inclusion in education, the transformation of rural education and the education of children in rural and remote areas are the most concerned issues for the participants. Experts discussed cutting-edge issues such as how to seize the development opportunities brought by smart technologies, promote the high-quality and balanced development of urban and rural education, explore educational solutions for smart villages and sustainable rural development, and assist in the implementation of rural revitalization strategy and the UN SDG.

Dr Monserrat Creamer, former Minister of Education of Ecuador, shared Ecuador’s innovative practices in promoting urban-rural education balance. According to Professor Muhammad Yunus, the Founder of Bangladesh’s “Rural Bank”, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Chairman of the AIT Yunus Center, in addition to mastering skills, students must learn how to learn. The purpose of education is to promote human growth, motivate people to strive, and integrate this spirit into the daily lives of the educated. Professor Worsak Kanok Nukulchai, Executive Director of the School of Integrated Innovation at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, former President of the Asian Institute of Technology, and Fellow of the Royal Thai Academy of Sciences, proposed to reduce the urban-rural divide by popularizing generative AI. The report by Professor GUO Shaoqing, Director of the Northwest Educational Informatization Strategy Research Base of the Ministry of Education, focused on “fairness in the process of basic education in remote rural areas”. According to Professor GUO, the major problems facing rural education in China are the structural shortage of teachers and the inadequate skills and knowledge of teachers. We can rely on education platforms at all levels to provide rich digital education resources for rural schools, and support small schools to carry out human-machine collaborative teaching through the collaborative application of online resources. At the same time, the coverage of the “three classes” can be expanded to promote the fairness of the course teaching process through the “delivery classes, synchronous classes and famous teacher classes”.

Cultivating Talents: The original intent and mission of developing smart education

The mission of education is to inspire wisdom and cultivate talent. The digital transformation of education poses significant challenges to educational research and practice. It is a transformation that affects every teacher and student on campus, in families and in society, and will inevitably change the lives of all of us and reshape our future.

Smart education requires smart teachers. Improving the digital literacy and skills of teachers, as well as using digital technology to innovate teaching models, are key to the reform of the education system. “How to make teaching a fun profession is crucial for educators, technology providers and various stakeholders,” said Professor ZHAN Tao, Director of UNESCO, IITE.

Speaking at the Forum on Teacher Digital Competences and Innovative Talent Cultivation Model, Dr Quentin Wodon, Director of UNESCO-IICBA, noted that many children in Africa still suffer from learning poverty, with many 10-year-olds unable to read and comprehend age-appropriate texts. The solution to this problem requires teachers to play a crucial role. Measures should be taken to make teachers’ professional development more practical, and teacher training should include content such as technological literacy and digital literacy. Mr Ren Youqun, Director of the Teacher Work Department of the Ministry of Education, delivered a keynote speech entitled “Building a Digital Empowered Teacher Team”. He analyzed the new situation and problems of China’s teacher training, and introduced the measures taken by the Ministry of Education to improve teacher literacy and skills through information technology. “Normal universities naturally connect basic education and higher education, playing an important role in improving people’s digital literacy, deepening digital transformation in education, and building an education power. In recent years, Beijing Normal University has been vigorously implementing the project of improving teachers’ capacity to promote the sharing of digital development achievements among the whole population,” said Mr Ma Jun, President of Beijing Normal University. In addition, he suggested continuously promoting original innovation in basic research, strengthening information sharing and resource sharing among normal universities, jointly improving the ecology of teacher training, and promoting high-quality and balanced development of education through complementary advantages. Mr CUI Tinghui, Deputy Director of the Education Department of Qinghai Province, shared the exploration of empowering talent cultivation through digital engines in Qinghai Province. He said, “Qinghai closely focuses on the requirements of students’ development of core literacy and subject core literacy, and by seizing the favorable opportunity of the national smart education platform’s provincial pilot program, they organize teachers to fully utilize the platform to carry out education, teaching, research, and training activities, fully empowering the development of learners.”

A special discussion on “a new teaching and learning model that integrates information technology” was also held by experts during the conference. Dr MO Jingqi, Deputy Director of the Institute of Curriculum and Textbook Research, Ministry of Education, presented the top-level design concept of technology-enabled teaching evaluation integration, which promotes the transformation of evaluation subjects, content, methods, and results through the organic integration of teaching evaluation and modern information technology. According to Mr MA Tao, a member of the Education Informatization Committee of the Basic Education Guidance Committee of the Ministry of Education, technology will bring about resource upgrading, restructuring, and spatiotemporal expansion of teaching, thereby reshaping the teaching and learning model system. Mr ZHANG Quan, Director of the Teaching and Equipment Informatization Division of the Basic Education Department of the Ministry of Education, presented the progress of the experimental zone work of the Ministry of Education’s “New Teaching and Learning Model Based on Teaching Reform and Integrating Information Technology”. Professor CAI Chun, Vice President of Capital Normal University, presented the work of the university in supporting the Ministry of Education’s “Experimental Zone for New Teaching and Learning Models Based on Teaching Reform and Integrating Information Technology” project. Through extensive contacts with experts from all parties and providing in-depth professional guidance and support to various regions, Capital Normal University strives to promote the formation of a nationwide basic education curriculum reform plan and create a brand of experimental zone. Education directors, heads of research institutions, and school principals from Chongqing, Dalian, Qinghai, Guangdong, and other regions exchanged ideas on exploring new teaching and learning models in their regions and in schools.

Smart education leads to an intelligent life. How to cultivate students who are eager to learn, happy to learn and intelligent to learn, and how to cultivate a large number of innovative talents who can meet the needs of society and lead the development of the times, is one of the core issues that experts and scholars are paying attention to at the conference, and it is also the focus topic that the public is paying the most attention to. At the Forum on Information Technology-supported Innovative Comprehensive Evaluation of Students, leaders from the Department of Science, Technology and Information Technology of the Ministry of Education, experts and scholars in the field of smart education, and heads of education regulatory departments from nearly 30 pilot regions were invited to attend. They exchanged and discussed the pilot work of the pilot area of the information technology-supported comprehensive quality assessment reform for students initiated by the Ministry of Education. Ms SHU Hua, Deputy Director of the Department of Science, Technology and Information Technology of the Ministry of Education, believes that it is necessary to fully utilize information technology, improve the scientificity, professionalism, and objectivity of educational evaluation, and innovate evaluation tools to utilize modern information technologies such as AI and big data to explore the vertical evaluation of students’ learning situation in all grades and the horizontal evaluation of all-around development of moral, intellectual, physical, aesthetics and labor education. According to Mr Mark Boris Andrijanič, former Minister of Digital Transformation in Slovenia, research shows that in the future, 70% of jobs will rely on digital technology and skills to complete. The younger generation must master the latest technologies and have a sense of social responsibility to grow from digital natives to digital leaders. Professor CHEN Li from Beijing Normal University presented the current situation and progress of information technology-supported comprehensive student quality assessment. Professor ZHENG Qinhua from Beijing Normal University stated that the comprehensive quality of students will be measured and characterized using sophisticated technology through multiple data collection, processing, and analysis around performance evaluation. Professor XIN Tao from Beijing Normal University shared his thoughts on evaluation reform and the construction of comprehensive literacy theory. Heads of education authorities from Chongqing, Changsha, Yangquan, Beijing’s Fangshan District and Foshan shared practical cases of IT-supported reform and innovation of comprehensive student quality assessment in their regions.

In order to promote the growth of teachers and students in the era of intelligence and enhance digital literacy and skills, the conference held a special Teacher Forum on Innovative Practice of Smart Education and a Students Forum on Innovative Design of Future Education for teachers and students. Participants discussed teaching methods for integrating technology and subject courses, practical exploration of technology education applications, digital literacy and professional development of teachers in the information environment, learning environment design and digital transformation of learning, and excellent cases of smart education, jointly exploring innovative solutions for future education. Professor YUAN Jiazheng, Dean of the College of Science and Technology at Beijing Open University, believes that the AIGC’s promotion of open education is mainly reflected in the following aspects: the transformation from traditional classrooms to intelligent classrooms; the more intelligent teaching methods, teacher roles and evaluation methods; the opportunity for teachers to access better resources; and the students to focus more on improving innovative thinking instead of passively accepting knowledge. Professor XIONG Yu, Director of the AI and Smart Education Research Center at Chongqing University of Posts and Telecommunications, presented the university’s insights and experiences in data governance by focusing on the research and practice of universities in the comprehensive evaluation of teaching intelligence. Mr SONG Weizu, founder of the Beijing Design Society, called for exploring the form, direction, and needs of future education from the perspective of design thinking. Representatives of outstanding college students from 13 countries shared experiences and exchanged views based on the actual situation and personal experiences of their countries and regions.

The event held at the same time as the conference also included the final of the 6th Global Competition on Design for Future Education. Since its launch on March 1, the competition has attracted more than 1,000 college students and 2,000 primary and secondary school teachers from more than 30 countries and regions to participate. After fierce competition in the preliminary rounds and pre-finals, 20 outstanding works were selected for the finals in the group of university students and the group of primary and secondary school teachers. Gold, silver and copper awards were given.

International cooperation: A bridge to a better future for education

AI, big data, cloud computing, VR, and other new technologies are leading people into an intelligent era of “human-machine collaboration, cross-border integration, and co-creation and sharing.” In 2022, at the United Nations Transforming Education Summit, UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized that “education must be transformed because it is in a deep crisis”. The summit identified “digital learning and transformation” as one of the five key action areas and called on countries to take full advantage of digital technology to promote education reform and lifelong learning. The Reimagining Our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education, published by UNESCO, emphasizes that the development of digital technology has opened new avenues for humanity, but also poses unprecedented risks. The report calls on countries around the world to unite and reimagine their ideal future society through education reform.

In response to UNESCO’s initiative to promote international exchanges in the field of education, the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, in cooperation with UNESCO, has held four consecutive International Forum on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Education since 2019. The first World Digital Education Conference was held in Beijing in February this year, actively promoting policy dialogue and exchanges among all parties, calling for joint efforts to eliminate digital barriers, and promoting open source, sharing, and co-construction of resources. According to H.E. Mr HUAI Jinpeng, Minister of Education, digital education should be an open and cooperative education. The digital era has brought us an efficient platform for open cooperation, and open cooperation has become a key element in promoting education reform and innovation in the new era. The “Global Smart Education Conference” jointly organized by Beijing Normal University and UNESCO, IITE has always been committed to promoting open cooperation in global education. “Since the conference was held in 2020, it has become an important platform for international exchange and cooperation in smart education,” Vice Minister H.E. Mr CHEN Jie fully affirmed the conference. “Beijing Normal University is willing to sincerely cooperate with friends from all walks of life to continuously tap the potential of technology, jointly contribute to the development of education, and promote the building of a human community with a shared future,” said Professor ZHOU Zuoyu, Vice President of Beijing Normal University.

At the closing ceremony of the conference, NetDragon Websoft released the EDA White Paper. As an educational co-creation platform and diversified incentive system, EDA enables teachers and students to access educational resources anytime, anywhere through open resources and channels, and to create and distribute courseware, thereby participating in the co-creation and sharing of the global digital education ecosystem. “NetDragon Websoft is building an idealized form of educational innovation. It is a new-age public smart education platform that aims to utilize advanced and interesting technologies to generate massive high-quality digital education resources and serve diverse learners worldwide,” said Professor LIU Dejian, Co-dean of the Smart Learning Institute of Beijing Normal University and Chairman of NetDragon Websoft.

On behalf of the Global Smart Education Network (GSENet), Professor HUANG Ronghuai released the interdisciplinary joint research finding “Strengthening the Smart Education Strategy for the 2030 Education Agenda: Cross-disciplinary Research Report on Digital Transformation of Education”. The report rethinks and explains the characteristics of smart education in the context of digital transformation, and analyzes digital education policies in 22 countries or regions using text analysis methods. It also analyzes the contribution of relevant indicators from four dimensions of smart education to SDG 4 development goals, based on global public datasets.

At the conference, the Global Smart Education Network (GSENet) jointly launched the “Initiative for a Global Smart Education Strategy”. The initiative includes the following content: Governments of various countries should promote the development of smart education through three strategic leverage points: changing teaching methods, building a smart learning environment, and developing forward-looking policies; policymakers should analyze and formulate national education policies from aspects such as infrastructure, resources, curriculum, digital skills and literacy, and build a new ecosystem of smart education; all stakeholders should strengthen cooperation, accelerate the development of inclusive, equitable, and high-quality education, and establish a public service system for smart education.

“China has always believed that all countries should work together in the face of global challenges. China is willing to uphold the concept of building a human community with a shared future and work closely with the international community,” said Vice Minister H.E. CHEN Jie. At the same time, he also proposed three initiatives for international cooperation in the field of smart education. The first is to strengthen policy dialogue and jointly promote education reform. The second is to strengthen resource sharing to promote equitable and inclusive quality education. The third is to strengthen cooperation in capacity building to facilitate teaching reform.

British author Charles Dickens wrote at the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” As Director Mr SHAN Zhiguang said, from the perspective of the digital transformation of education and the flourishing development of smart education, this is the best of times; but from the perspective of the differentiation of global educational concepts and the confusion of educational paths, this is the worst of times. It can be said that this is the best of times for those who actively adapt to and take advantage of the situation, while this is the worst of times for those who are stubborn and complacent. We must fully recognize that smart education is an irreversible trend, a necessity for social development, and an inevitable evolution of education itself. It coincides with the Fourth Industrial Revolution and synchronizes with the transformation of human society. It will be guided by humanistic ideas and driven by technological empowerment, leading the new development of education.

True heroes arise in times of hardship. Against the backdrop of the rising tide of smart education, this generation of educators should keep pace with the times, boldly shoulder great responsibilities, and strive to be the trendsetters of the times. At the same time, due to the long and arduous road of smart education, we must overcome difficulties and work together to explore new horizons in smart education.