The Impact of AI on the 21st Century Education System and Careers in Zimbabwe

In the past, distinguishing students was easy—they were the ones carrying around heavy bags filled with books. The same applied to university students, where the level of education increased with the weight of their academic materials. However, today’s reality is different. 21st century students can now stroll into class with just their mobile phones, opting to record lectures rather than take notes

Mathematical problems that once required extensive calculations can now be swiftly in under a minute. This transformation is thanks to AI. What implications does this hold? Does it signify opportunities for STEM careers or a trend towards laziness in work delivery? Does a degree earned in 2013 hold more value than one obtained in 2023? These questions arise, but one thing is certain—technological advancement, particularly AI, is an irrefutable force. The central question then becomes: how do we integrate AI into our daily lives?

Zimbabwe and AI

Zimbabwe has not been left behind in the AI craze and professionals and students took time to deal with the change. At first, Zimbabwe took a strict approach to AI by restricting some AI tools such as chatbots like GPT. Some universities thought of introducing measurers like AI plagiarism checkers. However, despite initial legal restrictions, University students found ways to access AI by resorting to using South African numbers and VPNs. Now, AI tools are available, catering to students and professionals alike across various domains. From video creation to mathematical problem-solving, AI permeates every aspect of life, offering services such as access to past exam papers and automated dissertation writing. Amidst this, questions arise: Are humans losing control to machines? Are machines replacing humans?

While it is true that some current jobs have been taken over by machines, leaving some people without work, it is also accurate to say that machines make jobs and work life easier for people in other ways. So in essence, while AI and automation have displaced some human laborers, they have also generated new employment opportunities and made certain aspects of work less strenuous or demanding for people.

Understanding AI

Before delving further, let’s define AI:

Artificial intelligence is the science of creating machines capable of human-like thought processes, enabling them to perform tasks deemed “intelligent.” AI technology processes vast amounts of data in ways humans cannot.

Opportunities for STEM Students

The advent of AI across sectors presents lucrative career prospects for STEM students. By embracing the challenges and opportunities brought by AI, students and aspiring professionals in the IT field can catalyze innovation. For instance, the prevalence of AI assistants in businesses underscores the need for skilled programmers to develop and optimize these systems. As AI continues to reshape industries, STEM enthusiasts can take advantage of this to help and develop Zimbabwe.

Pros and Cons of AI in Education

The integration of AI into education streamlines processes, enhancing efficiency in tasks such as assignment completion and resource access. Yet, concerns rise over academic integrity and critical thinking development. Dependency on AI could compromise students’ ability to solve problems independently and raise issues of plagiarism. When it comes to practical work, one cannot solely depend on AI. Skills and the knowledge of work is important. Yes, AI can help in the theoretical or non practical aspects but for a medicine student to operate a patient ,they definitely need skills.

Pros and Cons of AI in the Professional Sector

AI’s efficiency in tasks like content generation and data analysis accelerates productivity but may lead to job displacement and hinder human creativity and interpersonal skills vital for workplace collaboration. Nowadays most companies have chatbots answering customers on their social media platforms. A good example is Ecocash’s Thembi who answers customer queries online. This means a number of people can chat to her anytime of the day. The main advantage of this is that customers are responded to quickly. The downside is she is programmed to give specific answers and lacks human empathy.

Education 5.0 and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)

The government of Zimbabwe in August 2019 officially launched 5.0 which focuses on teaching, research, community service, innovation and industrialization and it seeks to move the nation forward toward an innovation-led and knowledge-driven economy. In this case AI’s role in education aligns with Education 5.0’s emphasis on personalized, tech-driven learning.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution creates a world in which virtual and physical systems of manufacturing co-exist with each other. In this case it means humans and machines co-existing and working together. Nowadays we have AI attorneys, counsellors, writers and so on. These machines are working hand in hand with people making the work flow easier. Virtual reality is not seen only in games anymore but you can take virtual tours of anywhere in the world.

Embracing AI Responsibly

While AI offers a lot benefits, its implementation requires careful consideration. Balancing efficiency and automation with critical thinking and creativity is crucial. Despite its utility, AI’s accuracy isn’t trustworthy, necessitating verification of AI-generated content. Hence, AI should augment existing efforts, enhancing productivity without compromising accuracy.

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Tea in 60 is a community that seeks to bring about the much needed practical one-on-one conversations between girls interested in STEM and women already in the field. In one hour, girls in high school, as well as those that are in or have just finished tertiary education will have an opportunity to discuss anything they want in the career of their choosing with a selected mentor.