Technology and teachers: not interchangeable

dybuster children in classroom

The first title for this blog post I had in mind was Will computers replace teachers? …until I realized just how many articles already exist with that exact same title or variants thereof.

This question – whether technology will ever take the place of teachers in the classroom – seems to pop up on a regular basis and has been doing so since the 1970s when learning software PLATO began to be widespread in schools. PLATO was useful because it performed the time-consuming task of checking students’ answers to math problems. PLATO was not a teacher, but simply evaluated whether an answer was right or wrong.

Today, as the market for education software is booming, the same question persists. There has been speculation that the role of a teacher will change from that of instructor to a coach, or guide. This article from the New Yorker argues that not just learning methods but the very content of education will change. As computers take on ever more tasks, students will focus more on skills that cannot be automated by a computer, skills such as critical thinking and communication. A teacher, not a computer, is capable of imparting these skills.

When we develop software for dyslexia or dyscalculia intervention, we do not intend this software as a replacement for teachers. The programs are meant to make a teacher’s job easier, to free up her or his attention for tasks the software cannot do. None of our learning programs take away the need for special education experts, therapists, or teachers.

But if a country is facing a shortage of teachers, as is the case in many places around the world, technology can greatly assist in filling the gap. This article from the World Bank provides a global look at the role of computers in education.

Is the role of teacher changing? This seems highly likely. But there is one aspect of a teacher’s job that does not change: human connection. There is no doubt that teachers can touch their students’ lives in a deep and personal way that no computer can ever do.