As schools make choices between computer based intervention programmes and those delivered by teachers, a recent TES article has challenged the view that artificial intelligence will never replace teachers and I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree with Stephen Breslin of Glasgow’s Science Centre.

Stephen Breslin, of Glasgow Science Centre, believes that the ability to empathise with students will always differentiate humans from machines.  “You could never replace that absolutely essential personal connection,” says Breslin, of a student-teacher bond which helps identify and resolve pupils’ highly individual learning problems.

I can completely agree that the need to connect with students, particularly those with a learning difficulty who quite likely have a negative experience of learning  and low self esteem, related to learning, is an important part of building confidence in learners.  Only this week I enrolled a new student who had left mainstream school to attend an independent SEN school.  Yet he still had a negative view of his own learning experiences.  The student has ASD and dyslexia and soon became very emotional during our session.  We stopped to talk about his anxiety and his learning experience and very quickly were able to re-engage with learning.  The young man was able to learn about what was causing his  anxiety (visual processing), I was able to explain what made him feel this way and signpost his mum to the additional support he may need.  We can now make the appropriate adjustment immediately in the lesson.  Unfortunately, I don’t feel a computer based intervention programme could have uncovered those emotions and be able to quickly address and re-engage a learner and sign post as quickly as a teacher.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence

In an interview with Tes Scotland, Breslin lists several qualities of a good teacher which he believes AI cannot match: “Empathy, helping young people develop social skills, communication skills, helping them explore the creative process, develop problem-solving abilities, helping them to create and imagine – these are the things that you can’t automate, and they remain the unique traits of human beings.”

Again, Breslin makes such a valid point which only a teacher can bring to learning.  A teacher can engage a student to develop problem solving skills.  We’ve all heard the phrase “Give a man a fish and he will  eat for a day, give a man a fishing rod…”.  Again so many times I see examples of students who have somehow misconstrued some information and it’s never been addressed.  This can be such as knowing the difference between letter name and sounds.  Labelling letter names as capital letters and using spelling patterns incorrectly such as ‘ow’ used for LV/o/ in the middle of a word, such as ‘joke’ spelled ‘jowke’.

When such errors are identified they can quite easily be rectified and explored with the student, identifying their thought process and reasoning for incorrect use of the pattern.  It’s a standard teaching skills; to aid discovery will enable a learner to retrieve existing schemata and attach new information, rather than just simply be shown, again this is not something which artificial intelligence cannot address and explore with a student.  An answer is usually correct/incorrect with no reasoning why or identifying how the student came to this conclusion.  So much can be learned from the student during this analysis.

He adds: “We’ll automate specific tasks and job functions, and the nature of jobs will change. But you’re always going to need that personal connection.”

Breslin also believes, however, that teachers will have to change the way they teach to keep pace with a fast-changing world of work, as “the key skills our young people are going to have to have [will be] based around creativity, communication, and innovative and entrepreneurial thinking”.

He adds that advances in technology offer “the promise of a better, more comprehensive education, which would free the teacher up to become more of a mentor and a learning coach than the source of the knowledge”, allowing greater personalisation of learning in school.  Again, I can agree, there is a place for computer based intervention programmes, they do provide an excellent tool for practice but not teaching.

To read the TES full article CLICK HERE