Rise of the robots

Over the last century, teaching has seen considerable changes, starting from rote learning and chalkboards and progressing to using computers and iPads in the classroom. We could be on the edge of the biggest advancement yet, as there is talk of Artificial Intelligence (AI) entering schools in the near future. We speak to Professor Robert MacIntosh about what robots in the classroom might mean for teachers

Automated Response

It sounds futuristic, but Professor MacIntosh says that there may well be robots in the classrooms in the UK in the next ten years. Students are unsurprisingly enthusiastic about robots teaching them coursework, but it could have more advantages other than being a fun way to engage with learning. “If you look at the way school children learn, they often seek out online material for its accessibility,” says Professor MacIntosh. “AI could offer flexibility – often students don’t want to engage at 9am and would prefer to work at night, then AI could answer questions with automated answers.”

For teachers who can’t email pupils back at midnight, this could free up learning to suit the needs of the pupil, stop unnecessary delays and take some of the pressure off teachers. “It would be particularly useful for learning patterns that can be predicted, like in language and numeracy, then some things could be automated,” he explains.

For children with learning difficulties and disabilities, as well as any pupil who needs additional support, AI might be able to give that help. Robots are currently revolutionising the care industry, and Paro, the robotic seal that moves when touched, has been credited with helping people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. AI could mean that children who struggle in the classroom, or currently can’t attend, are able to flourish and thrive in a school environment with careful attention. Of course, robots don’t come cheap, and they will always be subject to technical difficulties that may not be resolved by simply switching them on and off again – but the leaps and bounds are being made in technology all the time.

Job Concerns

Teachers often enter into the profession because of its stability – it’s viewed as a job for life. After all, everyone goes to school, and there’s usually a high demand for teachers across every subject. If automation enters the teaching world, what does this mean for teachers’ jobs?

“People are concerned across industries about robots taking human jobs,” notes Robert, and it’s a growing worry. In Asia, robots have been increasingly used in the classroom in the last few years, while the UK is more reluctant regarding AI integration due to concerns about employment, privacy and technical issues.

But fear not, Wall-e is not coming for your job. “I’m not of the view that all educational processes can be stored on a computer,” says Robert. Children still respond best to humans, and not robots, and AI is still limited in what it can offer education. However, robots could make teachers jobs much easier. News of teachers taking part-time roles to keep up with all the marking and lesson planning could come to an end as AI may be able to take on time-consuming administration and free up educators to focus on teaching and research. Now that’s something every teacher can get on board with. It might be a good thing that your next teaching assistant is a robot.