Should The Education Sector Be Worried About Robot Teachers?

More than 4/5ths of 6th formers believe a human being is a better teacher than a robot according to a recent poll of 500 16-18-year-olds.

Robot teachers have been mentioned as a potential solution to the recruitment and retention issues facing UK teaching today.

The poll also showed that students would feel deprived of human contact and inspiration along with receiving minimal emotional support when needed. Some fear the standardisation of education and reduction in creativity with added emphasis on grades and exams.

It was also mentioned that students would miss the comedy and fun element they have with some teachers, taking this away will certainly dampen their want to learn.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is often in the news, with warnings about its rise coming from top technology commentators such as the late Stephen Hawking and also Elon Musk (founder of Tesla).

According to McKinsey’s Global Institute, approximately 50% of today’s work activities could be AI automated by 2055… could teaching be on that list?

Currently, the classroom is no stranger to digital - with online teaching, mobile computing and adaptive software. Student strengths and learning gaps are already being identified using data. But how would a robot compare when trying to control a class? It would be difficult to tell until it was tested.

What can’t AI do? A teacher in the classroom is a master of a subject or content area, their skills and values are unique, and they can inspire a room through speech and gesture. AI doesn’t feel inspiration or emotion about a subject, only that it simply knows everything about that subject. Students relate to emotion and are more inspired to learn from it.

You also can’t put a price on empathy, humans have an ability to relate to one another, AI wouldn’t understand what reasons a student may have for finding a subject difficult to master. A robot teacher would need to be able to know much more about human emotion before it could adapt to a live, wide-ranging classroom.

The bottom line is that these technologies would work best when paired with a human. While there is a place for individual data-led, robotic AI teaching in some areas in the distant future, it doesn’t seem to be something to worry about in the near future at least…