With the development of Artificial Intelligence (or AI) the question has been raised as to whether robots could eventually replace our teachers and tutors.
As a simple explanation, AI is a form of technology that has been computed to respond in alarmingly human-like ways to environmental stimuli.
We’ve probably all seen the clips of figure-like robots at science fairs, responding seemingly like a human, and the prototypes of self drive cars. These use a form of AI to respond to situations and compute correct data to make them function and aid us in everyday processes. Most of us have by now used a Sat Nav, for example, that responds to where we are and re-routes accordingly. It replaces the skills of a map reader in the passenger seat!
So AI is already replacing many tasks in our lives. Could it do that for teaching?
Recently, there has been much discussion about its impact on education and its potential for replacing much of what teachers do. AI already has, in some respects, as technologies now can answer and respond to all kinds of unpredictable questions because of incredible computational thinking. The potential for completely personalised and independent learning, where the students can engage with the learning they need, in an individual way and at an individual rate, at first glance looks to be a brilliant answer to the problem of lack of teacher time – and dwindling numbers.
But the arguments continue about whether AI technology can supply all the answers, whether too much of it actually deskills young people, as with the replacement of the skill of map reading by the use of Sat Navs, and whether this even matters. Does being able to tap a screen and access an immediate answer actually take away independent resourcefulness?
Another argument asks whether AI led learning technology can encourage and motivate learners like an inspiring teacher can. No amount of technology can replace the connection and support another human being brings to the process. And it shouldn’t be seen as the answer to the teacher shortage as has been suggested.
In an article for the TES Dr Bernard Trafford says that he believes that ‘no artificially created intelligence will ever stimulate and guide deep learning in the way the very best teachers do.’
But Charley Rogers writing for ‘Education Technology’ believes that AI is not looking to replace the teacher but instead support that irreplaceable element of teaching which real teachers provide through their intuitive assessment of individuals and responses to emotions through personal interaction.
AI should be regarded as a support to that, freeing up the teacher from the endless provision of data, to give time for those more personal interactions when needed. As well as providing opportunity for those learners who’d rather not be ‘taught’ to learn as independently as they wish.
Technology has been enhancing education already. It brings access to it for many who would otherwise be denied. It is probably its advent and development that has driven the rise in home education as the chance to learn individually increases.
But as with home education, the support of another human being for encouragement and inspiration is still the key. And that is likely to be true of learning in schools and colleges where the support of a caring teacher makes all the difference to achievement. Robots will never replace that.