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Can teachers be replaced by robots?

There has been this debate going on if teachers can be replaced by robots in future classrooms? Various studies on this are being carried out in universities all over the world. There was a study led by Professor in Robotics Tony Belpaeme, from the University of Plymouth and Ghent University, who has worked in the field of social robotics for around two decades.

He said, “In the broadest sense, social robots have the potential to become part of the educational infrastructure just like paper, whiteboards, and computer tablets. But a social robot has the potential to support and challenge students in ways unavailable in current resource-limited educational environments. Robots can free up precious time for teachers, allowing the teacher to focus on what people still do best — provide a comprehensive, empathic, and rewarding educational experience.”

Nevertheless, in this current scenario of the pandemic where schools have been shut down and students are only attending online classes, the topic has gained significance even more.

When I came across this topic of replacement the other day in a webinar I started recollecting my journey as a teacher. Being a preschool teacher, it was my responsibility to make these toddlers feel comfortable in the school and make it home away from home. For that, apart from being just a teacher, I acted as their nanny while taking care of their hygiene and safety, I gave them the motherly affection and as the parents are busy with their schedules, like any other preschool teacher I had to step into the parenting shoes and keep guiding the children and also educate them about our culture and the list goes on. Thus making them a learner first.

The teachers at primary school level make sure that the young learners cultivate socially acceptable behaviour, handhold them to go that extra mile to achieve their goals, empathise the students when stuck at a point or help them come out of any adversities when needed. The middle school and high school teachers give the students that extra push to perform well be it in academics or sports or arts. Guide them to choose their desired or deserving careers. Teachers act more than mere facilitators. They act as a guide, friend, philosopher to the student. At times they need to be firm or harsh with the students and at times they just pat the shoulder to motivate the students to give their best. Once the learners achieve their goals or outperform, teachers are the happiest. That is the emotional connect between the learners and the teachers.  Students look up to the teachers as problem solvers and as a guide. Teaching academics is just a part of the whole.

If the teachers are replaced by robots, undoubtedly students can excel in the process of gaining knowledge about facts and theories. They can become independent learners.

While teachers are forced to deliver to the whole class setting, artificial intelligence can make it tailor-made to the students. The robots can carefully evaluate every response of the student to calibrate when to stick with the current topic and when to move onto the next. The students can identify unlimited possibilities to unleash their potential by building on the skills offered by AI. Each student can design their own goals and time to achieve them. Even some teachers agree that robots can teach much more efficiently than them.  

On the contrary, people are social animals. We like to learn in groups. We like to learn from each other. Sharing information to improve knowledge is one level and applying that knowledge in everyday life is another. Teachers share their own experiences to be able to relate to one another.  An additional factor which is likely to be irreplaceable is the ability to inspire. 

What we can conclude from this is that robots can be a part of the educational environment as an addition to the educational infrastructure. There is no harm in taking the help of technology when it’s used appropriately. AI can be a great tool for the teachers to improvise the teaching techniques. An important aspect of using AI is the limitations this system has. Not every school can work with AI keeping in mind the logistics involved in it.  A balanced blend is what works for the 21st-century education system. 

I would like to conclude that robots can only be teaching tools and not teachers.

Radha Duppelli

Radha has a remarkable working experience of over a decade in the field of Early Childhood Education. She has been a part of the curriculum development and implementation team for early childhood education in various international schools and her own school.


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