“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” – John Dewey

With AI (Artificial Intelligence) set to replace UK drivers as early as next spring, will it soon replace teachers in the classroom? Gone are the days when AI conjured up images of KITT in Knight Rider or Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

We all now rely on AI in our day-to-day lives without realising it. 

Automated replies and email filters; YouTube, Amazon or Spotify suggestions; bill, transfer and overdraft alerts with online banking – all use AI: ie. technology that mimics human learning, adapting and problem-solving. Search engines slowly but surely collect data about you, such as your location, age and search habits. Over time, using AI, they ‘get to know you and your preferences’ – spooky, yet so helpful.

“Don’t worry, I’ll ask Siri!” And now website chatbots, Siri, Alexa et al are following suit. AI is increasingly indispensable as an admin and research assistant. 

But could it ever replace the teacher in the classroom?

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Tech is a time-saver

A recent McKinsey/Microsoft survey (albeit in the US) reported: “20 to 40 per cent of current teacher hours are spent on activities that could be automated using existing technology.”

Gov.uk states that “Teacher workload [has been] cut by five hours a week over the past three years”: “Teachers’ working hours fall by 5 hours compared to 2016, with the reduction driven by a decrease in time spent on marking, planning and non-teaching tasks.”

Much of that is thanks to the automation and streamlining of processes through AI. Whiteboards, shared resources on networks, self-marking quizzes online, the increasing functionality of school management information systems (MISs) and more besides all make teachers’ day-to-day lives easier.

Planning and marking

EdTech apps have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years. 

Consider for example Maths platforms that set, mark, and differentiate pupils’ work for teachers. The feedback is instantaneous. Data-based assessments identify gaps in knowledge, a summary of strengths, and a sharp focus on areas for development to ensure rapid progress. 

What’s more, such apps often come with video lessons and model answers. 

It’s not hard to see the attraction for both teachers and pupils, and the COVID-19 lockdown has been the catalyst that many tech companies have been waiting for. Schools and colleges, some of whom were once rather cautious, have introduced online teaching platforms that would otherwise taken months not weeks to implement. History shows that adversity fast-tracks innovation. 

All that said…

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AI falls shorts 

You can delegate some of the teaching processes, but not all.

Relationships are at the heart of education. Teachers and learners inspire each other through shared enthusiasm. 

Teachers wear many hats. They’re performers, motivators, masters of improvisation. They take on – over the course of long days – the role of carer, counsellor, entertainer, sports/life coach, and much more. 

All this requires one-to-one connection, something that so many people, young and old, have missed during the lockdown. 

Humans are complicated, their needs complex. Teachers offer empathy, sympathy, and good judgement. To return to driverless cars, you need humans to decide on destinations and all-important course corrections. You need a teacher to navigate specifications and lesson planning. Only Miss knows how to inspire 5C last lesson on a Friday afternoon when Plan A didn’t go to plan. 

And the importance of the human touch when dealing with SEN or vulnerable children cannot be overstated. 

Final thoughts 

So, will AI ever replace teachers completely? Not in the foreseeable.

For now, the bots are friends, not foes, freeing up teachers to do what they do best: engage and inspire their students. 

“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.” – Bill Gates

Bryony – Guide

ambleglow expert


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