Two Major Long-term Problems Facing the World

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon
This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave Moursund, edited by Ann Lathrop, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) and Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) publications.
My most recent free book, The Future of AI in Our Schools, was published in May 2021. In my personal opinion, this is the most important and best book I have ever written. Please share the book with others you think might enjoy it.


My Current Health

In my recent newsletters, I have included brief reports on my ongoing “bout” with lung cancer. At the current time, medical science considers my type of lung cancer to be incurable. I have had ten days of radiation and one round of chemo/immuno therapy. I recently suffered a severe setback, a small stroke that has caused loss of function in my left side. I have now moved into Hospice and have discontinued any additional chemo/immuno therapy. We will wait a couple of weeks to see if my paralysis goes away. If it does, I may be able to resume chemo/immuno therapy.

I am currently unable to keyboard so I am dictating this to my partner, Ann Lathrop. I am continuing to enjoy life, my work, my play, my interactions with a large number of family members and friends, and especially the pleasure of hearing from my former students about all they have been accomplishing with their own lives.

The David G. Moursund Memorial Fund

Information Age Education (IAE) is a subsidiary of the Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) foundation. AGATE was founded in 2016 and is a federally registered 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization.

In view of my declining health, I have established the David G. Moursund memorial fund to help advance the use of computer technology in the poverty-stricken schools of developing countries. Our strategy includes professional development for teachers with a combination of in-person and remote learning options that are created by and conducted by native language speakers. In addition to our local presence, AGATE is creating shareable digital collaboration tools to broaden our outreach program. This program takes into account the limited Internet bandwidth that is so common in the developing world.

We invite you to make a contribution to AGATE in support of our efforts to expand the work of IAE around world at Moursund AGATE Foundation.

Two Major Long-term Problems Facing the World

Global Warming

I recently watched a television program about Greta Thunberg and her global warming climate crusade. We have general worldwide agreement that global warming clearly is a major problem, one that most of the nations of the world now are working together to address. Scientists can project how climate change is affecting the quality of life of people, other creatures, and the vegetation of our planet. We can project the ways that rising oceans will cause trillions of dollars of damage to our cities and will displace millions of people. That is, we can quantify the problem, and easily communicate our findings to the decision makers of the world.

It seems to be probably that advances in alternative energy production and other technology, combined with a decrease in the use of polluting fuels can solve this problem. The world can produce sufficient energy with solar, wind, water, and nuclear to meet its energy needs. Electric vehicles, direct current high voltage transmission lines, better batteries, and other technologies can “solve” this problem. However, it remains to be seen whether the world will accomplish this in a timely fashion.

Educating Students for a Technology-rich Future

I believe this second problem to be as large as or even larger than that of global warming. The issue is that, while advances in computer technology are affecting all aspects of our lives, our educational systems are failing to prepare students for life in this world being rapidly changed by ongoing advances in computer technology.

In this newsletter, I will argue that the magnitude of this problem exceeds that of global warming. I also will provide suggestions of actions that we can and should be taking now, both in our educational systems as well as in our programs of lifelong learning.

More Details about this Second Problem

The education problem is not one that can easily be quantified. Let us focus specifically on the United States, one of the wealthier nations of the world. Try to think of an unskilled job that a computerized robot will not be able to accomplish fifty years from now. What will such cheap labor do to our work force? What will people do for a living? How will the countries of the world handle the distribution of wealth in order to achieve a level of income adequate to provide all of their people with a good quality of life?

Students beginning school today will still be many years from retirement fifty years from now. But those students who lack special knowledge and skills will not be likely to be working. There will not be jobs for them. I find it hard to imagine a time when as many as half of all adults in the U.S. will be on unemployment payments. Also note that already today most people lacking special knowledge and skills are earning less than a livable wage. The current government supported social totally inadequate and cannot continue. As we move toward all jobs paying a livable wage, this will make it still easier for robots to take over ever more and more human jobs.

But what about more skilled jobs? For one example, consider the current jobs of human teachers. Being a teacher requires years of education and years of experience in order to become highly qualified. To what extent might computers eventually replace human teachers? We know that an individual human tutor can be far more effective than a teacher working with a classroom of students. What do you think will be the limits on the capabilities of artificial intelligence as an individual computer tutor compared with a human tutor? My guess is that computers will exceed human tutors across a broad range of the pre-college curriculum. We need to think carefully about what a human teacher with both good human knowledge and good skills can do that a computer cannot do. Our schools will still continue to need a large number of human teachers, perhaps teaching much smaller classes.

As another issue, consider the curriculum that students currently are learning in schools. What problems and tasks are they learning that cannot be accomplished by today’s computers only, or even more by the computers of the future. We see examples of this issue today as some students make full use of a computer as they take their online tests. A good education helps students learn to make effective use of the available computer technology.

In summary, what constitutes a good education for life in the future? This question is quite easy to ask but very difficult to answer. A key to this issue if to help students learn to recognize and pose problems that they want to solve, and then being able to use computers as an aide to solving the problems.

A Future When We No Longer Must Work to Earn Our Living

We have two types of issues here. First is the society issue of the problem of dealing with the continuing rapid changes in the distribution of wealth. The second is the variety of ways people will use the knowledge and skills that they learn in school.

For example, people will need to communicate routinely and interact with other people to solve problems. People will need both human-to-human skills as well as computer-mediated human to human skills. We already have seen children who are sitting in groups and using their cell phones or other electronic communication to interact simultaneously with friends who are present in that group as well as with other friends in different locations.

Here is another challenge. How do we educate people so they will make effective uses of their increasing amount of leisure time? For example, can we help students to develop good ways to use their leisure time other than playing computer games? (I admit that I am somewhat addicted to the computer game of Dragonvale myself.) Surely we want students to develop lifelong hobbies and goals for the uses of their leisure time that will be more important than only playing computer games.

We will each have a guaranteed personal income that will support a good quality of life. Some of us will develop special talents and skills to earn additional income for personal satisfaction and/or to buy luxuries that we want to have. Our focus will be on developing skills that help us to enjoy the quality of life that we want to have.

Quoting from the chapter on education in Yuval Harari’s book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century:

“Get to know your operating system better–to know what you are and what you want from life.”

This may include many of the following activities.

Personal skills: Taking care of one’s own personal physical and mental health.

People skills: Child care and family life. Staying involved with family members at home and across the country. Being a friendly neighbor. Being courteous to all. “Small talk” skills.

Spiritual activities: Religious and philosophical beliefs. Charitable work, donating to worthy causes and becoming actively involved in supporting these causes.
Job satisfaction: Learning new skills, perhaps for a new or better job.

Civic activities: Keeping up with what’s going on in the world: Being an informed voter. Being non-prejudicial.

Hobbies/interests: Having and caring for pets. Cooking. Expanding your mental horizons. Reading. Plays, TV, concerts. Learning new games. Taking a class in a new subject that interests you. Travel, holidays, new adventures.

Artistic skills: Drawing, painting, sculpting, photography, videography, metal working, wood working. composing music, playing an instrument, joining a chorus.

Sports: Active participation in one or more sports. Supporting your favorite team(s).


David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology (now published by ISTE as Empowered Learner). He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles.

Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE) in 2007. IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pediaIAE NewsletterIAE Blog, and IAE books.  Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016.