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How can Robots Replace Teachers when a Broken Photocopier can Plunge Schools into Chaos?

If teachers really are going to be replaced with robots, we’re looking at some seriously challenging specifications, warns Tom Starkey...

  • How can Robots Replace Teachers when a Broken Photocopier can Plunge Schools into Chaos?

As we screech into the future, I’m hearing more and more how the employment market will be irrevocably changed as key roles become automated and AI replaces just about every job going.

Now, my crystal ball has been on the fritz for the last few weeks, so I don’t know if we’re actually going into this brave new chrome-plated world; but it’s got me thinking – if teachers were to be replaced by robots, what exactly would those robots look like?

In a world where a non-functioning photocopier can plunge a school into abject chaos, what kind of colossal technical specs are we looking at for a fully functioning teacher-droid?

The way I figure it, Teachtronica (for that is what I have named our metal educator and no, I don’t care, it’s my column and I’ll do what I like) would have to be sturdy as all hell.

I’m talking ruggedised fixings, titanium alloys, and a reinforced outer shell able to shrug off even heavy duty impacts, such as when Bailey accidentally shoulder-barges it in the corridor because he’s late for PE (again).

In this scenario, Teachtronica would have to shrug it off, right its gyroscope, employ its pneumatic flipper and keep on trucking, planning a conversation with Bailey at a quiet moment about the lad’s spatial awareness (again).

It would have to check its memory file for previous occurrences, simultaneously working out the possibility of an undiagnosed medical issue, cross referencing Bailey against two other students with similar problems in the past who, it turned out, were dyspraxic.

Teachtronica would have to be able to run solidly, without repair, maintenance, or an oil change, throughout the whole day.

This would suggest a solar battery – but that option would be sub-optimal as, unless assigned to PE, Teachtronica would have little chance of seeing natural light for stretches of eight hours or more.

Electricity would be problematic, too, as any available socket around the school would be employed in the essential work of charging students’ mobile phones. A small nuclear fusion device would definitely have to be a consideration.

Teachtronica’s AI would have to deal with a variety of pastoral and emotion-based tasks whilst applying a consistent model of behaviour; relying on a series of algorithms that would run in parallel to ascertain optimum efficiency in areas both academic and personal.

It would have to be able to adapt its role at various times, switching between a number of different operating systems specialising in those areas with little or no load-up time during any changeover period.

In addition, Teachtronica would also have to encompass enough interior empty space to provide technological utensils to members of the class who have forgotten to bring them themselves.

It would also be handy if Teachtronica could do that R2-D2 projection thing, thereby saving countless hours lost looking for the remote.

As well as a projector, Teachtronica would have a built in scanner, printer, and a number of sensors that would allow facial recognition and body language analysis, highlighting any deviation from the norm and thereby identifying students who understand, those who are off-task and those who are essentially clueless.

It would then adapt the current lesson, on the fly, in real time, to ensure efficient learning and progress. Teachtronica would also be able to analyse all this data and use it to predict future attainment to the highest degree of accuracy.

And be fun and engaging whilst they do it.

That’s a pretty big ask for poor old Teachtronica.

Near invulnerability; AI that simultaneously learns, analyses, predicts and adapts given a huge amount of variables; a nuclear fusion reactor; a series of peripherals that through nano-technology would have to be virtually limitless; and sensors that would still work in the array-frazzing light and noise of an average school.

I’d put the cost at somewhere around 25-30 million quid.


So the next time you hear someone futurising that teachers will soon be replaced by robots, be safe in the knowledge that they would have to be pretty much miracle machines that would cost the earth, most likely break down the second day, and would be, in comparison with our current, flesh, blood and soul teachers, less use than a projector without a remote.

Thanks for reading.

Tom Starkey is a teacher and writer who blogs at stackofmarking.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tstarkey1212.

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