Why AI or robots in China can never replace human teachers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 December, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 December, 2017, 10:51pm

I read with interest recent reports about China wanting to bring artificial intelligence (AI) to its classrooms to boost its education system.

This brings us to the debate over whether artificial intelligence, that is, robots, will replace human teachers in the future. I believe that is unlikely.

Of course, AI could help lighten the workload of classroom teachers, in areas like analysing students’ past performance and optimising lessons accordingly; marking their tests and quizzes, and correcting their homework and assignments. Robot teachers could also deliver preprogrammed lessons and provide answers to frequently asked questions.

However, AI is unlikely to replace teachers in certain subjects, such as English or mathematics.

For these classes to be interesting, they need to be conducted in a fun environment where children learn new concepts; where the class is divided into groups, and pupils learn in an interactive way, such as role-playing and competitions. This is how I learned English in primary school.

Moreover, AI cannot provide the emotional support of a human teacher. Students learn when they interact with teachers and their peers. A good teacher can be a great influence, motivating and inspiring students. I doubt whether AI would be able to do the same.

Also, AI can present knowledge that human beings feed into them, so they still depend on humans to add new data, as knowledge changes from year to year, and decade to decade. Robots have to depend on human programmers, who will also repair them if need be.

As such, AI can complement human teachers, but they won’t be able to replace them completely. Rather, robots would need to work together with human teachers, in order to maximise the effectiveness of the learning process.

Eunice Li Dan-yue, Shanghai