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The latest digital education plans and guideline reports from global organizations as UNESCO, the European Commission , or the Computer Science Teachers Association include the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a nuclear element, mainly in pre–university levels.

The main reason behind this decision is the relevance that AI will have in the coming years in social and economic aspects, which will directly impact the next generations, who must be properly prepared. Specific AI curriculums are now under development fostered by policy makers, but they will not be fully integrated at schools until the end of this decade. In the short–term, there is a necessity for training current upper secondary school students in AI fundamentals so they can be better prepared for tertiary education, independently of their future specialization. The group of the UDC have addressed this issue during the last three years through the AI+ project. It was an Erasmus+ innovation project, with the main goal of developing an open curriculum about AI for high school students (ages from 15 to 18). The obtained results have been very successful, and all the developed teaching units are now available for other teachers and policy makers that want to have tested materials and experiences for their education plans.

The project that is presented here starts from the experience gained during the AI+ development. We realized that not only a general training on AI fundamentals is required for accessing to tertiary education at universities, but also a more specialized one for those secondary school students that choose a professional career. This type of training has different names depending on the countries, but in Europe it is known as Vocational Education and Training (VET). It encompasses students from 16 to 20 years old, in general, that receive training for a specific job or profession.

The commercial sector agrees with the critical importance of AI skills and training for current generations of students. And it is expected that by 2030 around 70% of companies will have integrated AI technologies (such as computer vision, ambient intelligence, virtual assistants, robotics, and advanced machine learning) into their business models, thus requiring an advanced workforce of staff well–trained in AI. In the same line, the EU’s Digital Education Action Plan 2021–2027 points out that, to suport competitiveness, we need people with the latest advanced digital skills. Within this scope, VET education plays a key role, due to its more targeted orientation towards the labor market, which allows to have prepared students in the short term to give a quick response to the market.

The project also aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are a set of 17 interconnected goals established by the United Nations in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. SDG number 8, which aims to promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all and SDG number 4, which aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. In addition, the project is guided by the LNOB principle, which emphasizes the importance of providing access to quality education without discrimination and Leaving No One Behind. Overall, the AIM@VET project is a tangible example of how the SDGs and LNOB principle can be put into action to address pressing global challenges.

With this background, this new Erasmus+ project starts with the main motivation of advancing in the adaptation of VET education to the market needs in a reliable and feasible way. It was selected for funding with a duration of three years, ending in 2025 and the goal of the project is to develop new teaching units about AI, organized in independent “learning modules” and adapted to VET. The project results will be ready to be directly applied in any VET school in a 3–year period, facing the digital readiness of future generations of professionals allover the world.

Link to SDGs and LNOB principle

SDG number 8 aims to promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. In the imminent AI technological revolution, it is very important to work towards equalizing regions in terms of their future development opportunities, giving a broad access to AI training in the short term. The AIM@VET project presented here has been conceivedas a response to the current situation in the labor market in Europe, mainly in southern countries, where a high rate of unemployed young people exists. But this motivation is applicable to many other regions worldwide.
Diagram representing the AIM@VET organization into 3 work islands (WI), each of them made up of one University and one VET school in Spain (ES), Slovenia (SL), and Portugal (PT).

There is a constant need for qualified technicians in the companies and there is a constant cry that vocational/professional schools are not providing sufficiently qualified graduates for companies even though practical training is integral part of curriculum in every vocational/professional curriculum. On the other hand, companies demand changes in content of vocational/professional modules to include necessary uptodate knowledge, skills and competences with which students could be employed immediately after their schooling period.

In addition, the SDG number 4 aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Consequently, it is required that AI curricula to be formal, feasible, open, and accessible for all nations, independently of their economic level. This is a second key feature of the AIM@VET project which, as in the case of the AI+, will deliver all the teaching units in an open format that will be freely accessible. Consequently, one of the main LNOB principles is faced here, this is, providing access to quality education without discrimination and leaving no one behind.