On any given day, a cursory glance at the news will reveal yet more industries being ‘taken over’ by robots. As I write this, the top Google News results feature robots saving the coral reef, robots solving Amazon’s labour conditions woes and even Iran starting to produce a robotic surgeon.
There’s no escaping from the fact that many of these developments will lead to a reduction in the role played by humans. In sectors from transport to healthcare and manufacturing, robots are increasingly replacing humans – and in 2019 the ONS predicted that 1.5 million people in England alone are at ‘high risk’ of losing their jobs to automation.
But just as the invention of the telephone and the internet have brought humans closer together than ever before, technology itself does not intrinsically result in a reduced role for humans – in fact, it can often mean the opposite.
Even the Industrial Revolution, during which machines were literally destroyed by vigilante packs of anxious workers, resulted in a greater economic role for humans. For example, because machines made cloth quicker and easier to produce, demand for cloth soared, resulting in even more humans employed in its production. Additionally, those who previously laboured for hours to produce cloth by hand could now find more lucrative and comfortable work in cloth finishing or even tailoring. When technology automates that which is better done by technology, it paradoxically opens even more doors for us humans.
There is no movement to replace teachers for the simple fact that none could possibly gain from robotising what is – if you perhaps exclude parenting – the most important human-centric aspect of our lives.
Schools can use AI to automate and improve some of the less human-dependent tasks…freeing up the teacher’s time to focus on actually teaching and nurturing their students.
However, the most important factor in whether or not technology replaces, rather than augments, humans is our own will. With regards to teaching, the will of all stakeholders involved is crystal clear – politicians, educationalists, headteachers, parents and students alike treasure the human aspect of teaching.
We all remember numerous teachers who were vital to our development, each of them individual humans with unique personalities and approaches, none of whom could ever have been replaced by a robot.
While important to education, nobody’s life was ever changed by a blackboard or an overhead projector, and no robot teacher would ever be able to turn around a child having a bad day at school. The ONS data backs this up: school teachers and other education professionals share the lowest probability of automation out of all sectors.
So what role is left for technology in education? The previous decades have seen edtech play an increasing role in classrooms around the world, but only now are educators beginning to harness the true power of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), for example.
Schools can use AI to automate and improve some of the less human-dependent tasks in teaching, such as most marking and planning, freeing up the teacher’s time to focus on actually teaching and nurturing their students.
From leading independent schools in England to groups of Syrian refugees in the Middle East, AI is being used to give children from all walks of life a better education, amplifying the role of teachers in the process.
AI has the power to improve our lives in the same way that technology has been doing for centuries, while at the same time enriching the level of human interaction in schools – a win-win for all involved.