Could AI be Better Teachers than Humans?

"It's not just a vaccine shortage or food shortage - it's a teacher shortage."

According to a 2016 UNESCO report, an additional 68.8 million teachers are needed to meet the goals for equal access to education by 2030. How can we close this massive gap? Having one teacher handle more students? This would probably result in an intolerable workload for teachers. How about... AI as teachers?

If teachers were replaced by AI...

Good morning Teacher Robot! As your students queue down the hallway, they high-five with the familiar face - or screen actually, that would go on to teach them neurobiology, how to start a campaign or even their own company, and how to fix that Nanobot that has been going a little haywire in their own digestive system.

AI, as teachers, would have access to all the information digitalised, and would have the capacity to transform knowledge into highly specialised niches that can accommodate to the needs of different students without having to hold anyone back. Each student in the classroom, that is, if the classroom still exists, learns different things in different ways at a different pace - with just a few clicks on their electronic devices. This flexibility allows for highly individualised curricula, which would help students discover their quirks and most effective learning styles, so they can get the most out of their institutionalised education.

Petty administrative tasks such as grading, preparing assignments or teaching materials would be unheard of. Exams and assignments would generate feedback immediately for maximum efficiency. Students would no longer be tormented by the long wait to get to know their grades or performance on quizzes or tests. All sounds good?

But... what exactly are the risks?

This new way of learning might, however, affect learners' health - too much screen time is a known cause of obesity, sleep disorders and a lack of interpersonal development. We would also need widespread Internet, Wi-Fi networks and electricity to power all these devices which could come at a great cost to our planet.

And… are there any downsides?

As nuanced as AI would become, there are some human qualities that cannot be engineered.

Empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and put oneself in another's shoes. It requires human experience and vulnerability, and more so, depth. Teachers impart life lessons that cannot be replaced by however many skills.

Think about your favourite teacher. Chances are, 'teacher' isn't the first title that comes to your mind. They might have been your guidance counsellors, role models, coaches and even surrogate parents. An important part of their jobs is monitoring students' well-being and building character. Teachers shape who we are and teach us how to be a better person and this could hardly be done or surpassed by human-programmed AI.

Teachers are very important.

The narrative that 'AI will be taking over teaching' is sweeping the world. But could AI be better teachers than humans? The answer to this is still up in the air, but one thing is certain - AI joining hands with teachers will be better than solely teachers. AI will surely become a new tool in a teacher’s toolbox. AI will free teachers from administrative burdens, give them insights on how to help each student better, and let them focus on what they do best – helping students grow.

If you're a teacher reading this, don't worry about an existential crisis. Despite having AI, students will still need you.