Just a few days ago I quoted Arthur C. Clarke, who said that Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be. A bit harsh, maybe, but being brutally honest doesn’t make you less honest (if anything, it makes you more honest). Sure, many of you will probably think that the same could be said of many other professionals in many other fields (especially if/when doing menial tasks) -but it is education that I am most interested in, for a number of reasons:
– first, and foremost, because I truly believe that education is the best investment a society can make to guarantee a stable, safe and prosperous future for their citizens
– second, and not less important, because I have dedicated the last 25 years of my life to education, so I am very interested in the status quo and evolution in this field
But even if the Artificial Intelligence revolution is already affecting education (and will increasingly do so in the foreseeable future), the focus of this post is not on whether (or when) robots will replace teachers, but rather on what to do in the meantime.
As in now. Because, imho, the way I see it (at least in my neck of the woods), the situation is untenable. What I see, day in and day out, are things such as:
- parents more concerned with what their children ate at school today than with what they learned today
- students more concerned with grades than with actual learning
- administrators more concerned with discipline than with preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist
- teachers more concerned with class schedules than with class content (especially with the acquisition of knowledge and skills that can be applied outside the classroom)
Oh, I know, not every parent, not every student, not every administrator, not every teacher is like that. Of course not! And yet I see/hear too much of that around me every day. Which means that we have to act, now, to change things -before it is too late. Before robots actually start to replace teachers.
Because what I see now, for the most part, is 20th century teachers who use 19th century methodological approaches to teach 21st century students. And that is, unavoidably, a recipe for disaster. If we want to prepare our students for jobs that do not yet exist, to help them acquire the knowledge and skills that will make them future-proof, there are things that we can (and must) start to do today.
- customize instruction, content, and assessment on a student-to-student basis to ensure personalized learning
- use technology and digital learning to access professional resources and learning opportunities that can lead to improvements in the academic success of students
- embrace technology and online platforms to access tools, resources, data, and systems necessary to tailor student learning
But teachers, alone, can not transform the academic environment without the leadership and support of administrators, both at the campuses and on a district level. Administrators can:
- align their budgets with personalized learning priorities including ongoing support for quality technology and infrastructure
- partner with local businesses and industries to advance the school’s learning goals
- use technology and a new approach to classroom structure to leverage in-school and out-of-school time to meet the needs of individual learners
Of course, change does not come easy (I usually say that inertia is the most powerful force on Earth) and resistance is to be expected. That is why we need to put education front and center in the public debate, so that all the parties involved in the decision-making process (from politicians to professional associations, from PTAs to universities, researchers and experts) can assume responsibility and participate in the design of our future education systems.
In that process, universities play a crucial role, since they are responsible for the initial training of our future teachers: universities need to understand that the current education paradigm can not and should not be replicated, and that to do that we need a new breed of teachers that are prepared to break the mold and design the education system for the second half of the 21st century.
Big task, big responsibility, but totally unavoidable. The future of our societies depend on it. And the time to act is now.