Education is the most difficult sector to automate

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Automation is disrupting industries and the employment sector by putting a lot of people out of work.

According to the BBC, “up to 800 million global workers will lose their jobs by 2030 and be replaced by robotic automation” (29 November 2017,http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-42170100).

However, this might not be the case for the sector of education; a report by McKinsey & Co pointed out that from all the analysed sectors, the technical feasibility of automation in education is at the bottom of the list.

Of course, technology has impacted — and will continue to impact — education globally by improving the learning experience overall, facilitating access to education through MOOC’s and chatbot tutors for example, and more.

_The question that remains is this: “Will robots and artificial intelligence ever fully replace teachers?_”.

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“A robot named Pepper holding an iPad” by Alex Knight on Unsplash

While some tasks linked to education can be automated (i.e. administrative tasks), the teaching part of the job can’t yet be; education is definitely one of the most difficult sectors to automate.

Effective education has to do with more than just transferring information from teachers to students. Education requires social interaction and an adaptation to the individual student’s learning needs and capabilities.

A good teacher also considers the student’s state of mind and weaknesses. Effective teaching skills have to do with maximising human potential.

In addition, students look to their teachers to guide them through life and mentor their career, not just to teach them about the course’s content. Meaningful human interactions are essential in education and are almost impossible to automate.

Automating tasks like teaching would require artificial general intelligence. Unlike narrow or specific intelligence, this type of AI would need to understand natural human languages and human emotions. In other words, it would have to be able to plan, strategise and make impactful decisions under unpredictable circumstances.

Though it does not yet exist, such a machine would be capable of performing any task a human being can, and keeping in mind that AI is evolving very quickly, the problems faced today in automating education might soon be solved by world leaders in AI.

Current technologies are able to grade and provide students with feedback, and some AI algorithms are even being trained and refined to perform automatic essay scoring. All of these developments will have a great impact on education —and more specifically online education — as we currently know it, and will increase online student retention rates drastically.

Chatbots like Jill Watson can allow hundreds of thousands, if not millions of students to have their work reviewed and all their questions answered at a minimal cost.

Despite the great leaps such systems have taken, automation alone cannot solve every issue in the global education system, which is dominated by outdated teaching methods and curricula, standardised tests, and an emphasis on short-term knowledge. Countless experts are therefore calling for a change in the way we teach, using the incredible potential of automation to improve educational content, strategy, and policies. Focusing only on automating the teaching process itself would result in an entirely digital learning experience that promotes outdated skills and fails to prepare students for the future.

The answers we provide to the following questions will shape the future of education; are we equipping students with the most important skills to help them survive in this world? Are we inspiring youngsters to create a better future? Are we meeting the unique learning needs of each and every student?
If the fundamental flaws of the underlying system are not improved over time, then automating the higher levels of that system will only serve to accentuate those flaws.

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Joséphine Misson

Joséphine Misson

Josephine is marketing manager at Wooclap. Cupcake guru and chief happiness officer in her spare times, you will also find her stuffing her coworkers’ bellies with plenty of delicious treats.