Babies born today are likely to reach early adulthood in 2039.
I don’t know about you but for me that seems a long way into the future. If you think of when these babies might retire from working life, then if they are lucky (and listen to the Beatles) they might be 64 years old – taking them to the year 2085.

Between 2021 and 2085 the waves of change will become more frequent and profound. Just think of what we have witnessed even in the past 10 years. Some of this change will be technology-driven, and a question beginning to circulate amongst teachers is am I going to be replaced by AI?

For teachers who are concerned about the security of their jobs current thinking argues that AI is likely to enhance teaching and learning processes, and not replace great teachers but make great teachers inspirational. AI will not stop impacting on our lives, but it is likely to transform our work as teachers, and the school lives of students. This means that it will change the role of the teacher in the learning process. Teachers will need to have a set of competences, some of which will be new, and some of which will
require adaptation of existing skills.

Teacher will have even greater support in being a guide on the side, rather than a sage on the stage. The change will happen fast – perhaps over 10-15 years, and it is starting now, partly due to the experience of the pandemic, but mainly because of the overwhelming power and influence of multinational technology companies.

Online teaching during the pandemic has exposed the weakness of traditional teacher-centered education. This experience, unique in that it has been global, shows that the potential for technology-enhanced student-based learning is considerable and that it should be incorporated into mainstream education. Multinational technology companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google currently have power to do both good and bad in the world. One major commercial interest involving all of
these is education.

There will be a time when these multinationals are restrained in how they influence markets, opinion, and social values, but until that happens, they are likely to sell services which will threaten some aspects of the teaching profession. This will need a counterforce from teachers to ensure that the precious human relationship between teacher and student is not
damaged by possibly superficial market-driven products.

For policymakers, the use of AI will appear seductive as it promises cheaper forms of education, that are easier to manage and standardize. However, if large monopolies are allowed to sell educational solutions that threaten the work of quality teachers, then market control will lead to steadily rising costs, which will hurt societies especially if they have already side-lined their human teaching workforces.

The way forward is not to block AI from influencing education but to harness and tame its potential strengths so that it becomes an asset for improving education for all.

In some parts of the world there is a significant shortage of teachers, schools, and other essential infrastructure. In these locations some 10-20% of children do not have access to education. One argument is that the world needs a huge number of new teachers and AI could offer a solution.

To accommodate the needs of these vast cohorts of children and young people, AI could provide an intermediary solution in providing access to basic education. However, as these countries, largely in Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have limited financial resources, it is unlikely that the multinationals will provide the means to access education through AI, or
other means.

In parts of the world where we are privileged to have teachers, schools and educational systems AI will soon have the potential to enhance:

  • Adjusted personalized learning, especially for students with specific and special needs
  • New learning environments, in which some learning is done online by students
  • Competence-based VR and AR learning resources
  • Activation of robots as teaching assistants
  • Reduced need for teachers to spend time on marking and administrative duties
  • Formative student assessment as a tool for learning

Across all professions we can see automation and increasingly AI changing working life.

Medics, lawyers, investors, law enforcers, farmers are all needing to respond by spending less time on basic tasks, and more time on specialized work.

We teachers are no exception. AI creates a window of opportunity for us to professionally grow but it will create a gap between basic teachers and super teachers. Basic teachers, those who often should not be in the profession anyway, will be compromised and side-lined.

Super teachers will be able to revitalize and excel. They will be able to grow professionally as AI expands moving teaching practices from yesterday’s direct instruction to today’s guided discovery which puts student exploration before teacher explanation.

It will probably take a long time for university-based teacher training to adapt to the positive potential of this new reality. History shows that change of initial teacher training tends to move very slowly in some parts of the world. Teachers now working, whether newly qualified or experienced, will need to look, listen, and learn about what can be done with AI, and find opportunities to build new super teacher competences.

If we wait for mandates and regulations from educational authorities, then the boat will have already sailed, and we will be left behind wondering what opportunities both we and our students have missed. The first step is to network with others on the same journey and experiment with digital learning resources.