James J. Heckman
20 Mar 2023
GEC Held the 2nd GEC Global Top Scientists Forum with Nobel Laureate Prof. James J. Heckman
The 2nd GEC Global Top Scientists Forum, organized by GEC Academy, was held online on March 20th. Covering topics such as biomedicine, bioelectronics, chemistry, applied physics, electronic engineering, business, etc., the Global Top Scientists Forum series, launched at the end of 2022, is an initiative aiming at promoting cross-cultural exchange and collaborative research while helping Chinese university students expand their research horizons and sharpen their scientific sense.
With a theme of “Promoting Skills to Promote Social Mobility”, the event emphasized the importance of individual economic value through skill acquisition and potential development. It featured a speech given by Nobel Laureate Prof. James J. Heckman, Professor in the Harris School of Public Policy and Director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development (CEHD) at the University of Chicago, who during the forum shared the insights in his paper “Economics of Human Development and Social Mobility”, published on Annual Review of Economics in 2014. Over 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students from 60 top universities in China participated in the event.
Before his speech, Prof. Heckman first gave a warm welcome to all the students and scholars who joined the forum. He started his presentation by discussing the opportunities and challenges that China may face in terms of its socio-economic development. He highlighted China's economic structure, demographics, and vast population as instrumental in driving its impressive economic growth over the past few decades. He also pointed out potential challenges, such as environmental issues and income inequality, which require immediate attention. In particular, he drew attention to the worsening income gap between urban and rural areas in China and emphasized the need for measures to promote educational equity and equal economic opportunities.
In addition, Prof. Heckman highlighted non-cognitive characteristics such as physical and mental health, perseverance, motivation, self-confidence, and socio-emotional qualities in transforming various aspects of life. He also discussed how skills gained and learned in early childhood can have significant impacts on employment and earning prospects, as well as overall health.
Followed by the discussion session, Prof. Heckman ended his sharing by emphasizing that improving the early lives of disadvantaged children through predistribution is more effective than simple redistribution in promoting social inclusion and economic efficiency.
Students from different universities contributed to the discussion session moderated by Mr. Edison Yan, President of GEC Academy. Participating students asked Prof. Heckman about how to overcome obstacles brought by AI and how to effectively maximize its potential to enhance learning. Prof. Heckman emphasized that AI can be used as a tool to develop effective learning systems and track children's growth but also highlighted the importance of human skills such as social and emotional intelligence, suggesting that “AI is not a rival, and children who are better trained and better equipped can face it and take it in a way that would be constructed so that it can be used wisely.”
Students also explored whether new technologies like renewable energy can improve people's lives. Prof. Heckman stated that while new technologies may bring opportunities for those who adapt to them, they may also exacerbate inequality in younger generations in the long term.
Mr. Yan also had a discussion with Prof. Heckman about the development of online education resources. According to Prof. Heckman, online education can help alleviate the inequality faced by many students who cannot access quality education due to various reasons. However, he also stressed the importance of offline interaction for teaching and the need to focus on the quality of offline teaching and teacher training.