How robots will run the schools of the future

E-learning: This android called Pepper has been used to teach classes in Singapore. © Getty

Will technology change education for the better? Artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and robots could revolutionise schools. Here are five ways learning could be transformed…

1/ Teachers replaced by robots. Imagine a school where every student has the world's greatest teacher for every subject. This could soon be a reality. According to education expert Sir Anthony Seldon, within ten years students will be taught by machines powered by artificial intelligence. He claims the robots will adapt to each student, making “extraordinarily inspirational” teaching available for all.

2/ Virtual schools teaching millions. The internet could turn the whole world into a classroom. Teacher Matt Britland predicts that schools will increasingly use the cloud to teach students in virtual classrooms across the globe. Eventually, physical schools may cease to exist. Educator Hyuk Jang envisages “travelling classrooms” with students working in “real world” spaces like libraries and laboratories.

3/ A revolutionised curriculum. By 2034, 47% of all jobs could be taken by robots. As machines are better at numerical tasks, the World Economic Forum predicts that schools will teach more social and emotional skills — specifically creativity, communication, and problem solving. For example, maths lessons could focus on using numbers creatively to solve problems and puzzles.

4/ The end of university. University offers the chance to devote years to learning, whether it be in classics or computer science. But an increasing number of people are spurning traditional degrees. Instead they choose short online courses in digital skills like coding, which can be transferred directly to certain careers.

5/ Exams on the internet. By 2050, the days of handing over your mobile phone before starting an exam could be long gone. Harvard professor Eric Mazur claimed that students should use the internet during tests, arguing that in the era of Google, “We don’t need to memorise anything.” Letting students look up facts would effectively test “21st century” analytical skills, he added.

But is this an exciting future?

School’s out

“The future is bright,” some say. By giving all students the best teaching, AI machines could vastly improve social mobility. And virtual classrooms will open access to learning even wider. What is more, micro-degrees and a modern curriculum will prepare young people for the digital workplace. Technology will revolutionise education.

“There could be a darker side,” others argue. It is genuine human connection that makes great teaching. No robot teacher or virtual classroom will ever replace that. Schools do not just teach lessons, they build real communities based on personal relationships. What’s more, we should not be fooled into thinking that education is just about getting jobs. We must preserve the pursuit of learning for its own sake.

You Decide

  1. Would a robot make a good teacher?
  2. Should students be able to use the internet during an exam?

Activities

  1. It is time to design a robot teacher! Sketch out what it would look like, and label its key features and abilities. Try to give it a snappy name.
  2. You have been tasked with creating a curriculum suitable for the modern world. However, you can only pick five subjects. Which subjects would you pick and why? You can invent new subjects or pick traditional ones.

Some People Say...

“The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.”

William S. Burroughs

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In 2016, an estimated 23m people registered with massive online open courses (MOOCs). Worldwide this takes the total number of users to around 58m. Meanwhile, an educational robot called Kibo is currently used in 160 nurseries in Singapore.
What do we not know?
Robot teachers sophisticated enough to replace human teachers are currently theoretical, and we do not know if they will ultimately be possible. We do not know exactly what jobs will be replaced by AI robots in the future and what impact this will have on education. There may be new jobs created that we currently cannot imagine, which will necessitate completely new educational programmes.

Word Watch

Sir Anthony Seldon
Vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, and former master of Wellington College. He explores the role of AI in education in his book The Fourth Education Revolution (due out next year).
The cloud
The cloud is a computer model that allows many people to access a set of resources. Several leading universities have already created “massive open online courses” (MOOCs). For example, Harvard and Berkeley have hundreds of hours of lectures available on YouTube.
47%
According to a 2013 study from the Oxford Martin School, by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne.
World Economic Forum
According to the 2016 report, Fostering Social and Emotional Learning through Technology.
Online courses
These courses normally last no more than a few months and cover highly specialised subjects. Udacity, a course provider, teaches micro-degrees including Intro to Self Driving Cars and Machine Learning Engineer.