Taking on the machines: the rise of the Educator

Yes, I am picking a fight with robots and the organ-grinders!

Automation is not the end of the road for Educators

Yes, you know too, ‘the robots are coming for our jobs’! Cue to some collective eye-rolling, this statement has fast morphed into a ‘future of work’ cliché. Arguably, there’s little to prevent automation’s continued non-linear creep, but to be frank, in an educational context, I’m more likely to worry that ‘management’ has a more significant and worrisome non-technological interest in my job for the foreseeable.

Anxiety-wielding ‘automation of work’ has been knitted into life for over 200 years (Autor, 2015), impacting occupations involving both cognitive (analytic/interactive) and manual routine tasks (Autor et al., 2003). More recent studies by the OECD (2019) and the Roosevelt Institute (Paul, 2018) suggest the consequences of automation depend more on politics than robotics, and that technological change will not necessarily lead to net job destruction in the long term. Blaming robots, they suggest, rather than the rules of the game “is a convenient narrative that misdirects workers’ concerns over a weak labour market and poor institutions” (p.28). This is not to downplay the impact on those caught up in skills transition, but diverts criticism from the mass media enjoyment of threatening people with algorithmically-driven artificial intelligence. Instead, we should be questioning why decision-makers are so incentivised to cut the ‘human’ out of the process, and why economic gains from technology are hoarded rather than shared. We should also be impressing on the powers that be, for “a more equitable distribution of the ever-growing pie” and through anticipating the skills transitions that new technology will ignite, demand the implementation of policies that will facilitate change in a positive direction (p.27).

Altered, not eliminated

So this is it. I’m stepping in the ring, all fired up, fuelled by the support and energies of many inspiring educators committed to the battle of transforming education with the human at its heart. I will never throw in the towel. I know what I want from the future of education, and it will not be one fully subsumed by AI. Learning operates on a vast network of diverse nodes, including communities, materials, teachers and technologies (Ito et al., 2013), and furthermore, to date, I’ve found more studies than not, that reinforce my personal experiences that human relationships support academic learning and positive future orientation. Educators will continue to be needed: to create, facilitate and manage learning interactions, and to act as connection-builders for learners across many domains and contexts.


I thank Steve Wheeler, presenting at the recent EDEN Annual Conference 2019 in Bruges, for reminding me of futurist and author Arthur C. Clarke’s bold statement made over 40 years ago. “Any teacher who can be replaced by a machine should be” (Clarke, 1980). I agree! Education is not impervious to change. Unearthing the original interview for Omni Magazine, I find Clarke actually states “genuine education requires feedback interaction between pupil and teacher. At the very least, this allows the student to clear up points he does not understand. Ideally, it provides inspiration as well” (p.78)…By removing the tedium from the teacher’s work and making learning more like play, electronic tutors will paradoxically humanize education. If a teacher feels threatened by them, he’s surely in the wrong profession” (p.96).

Beard & Kestner (2013) writing on Education 2030 suggest in fact the future offers a hybrid model, that which makes best use of the human and technology, should we embrace it. This will enable each teacher action to be more productive and more accessible. So I am determined to sleep easy, even as AI continues to develop, but that so it may increase my efficiency, streamline my administrative tasks, and afford for improved learner personalisation, freeing me up for more value-added work with my learners.

Human-In-The-Loop AI

“Automated software cannot yet completely replace the human mind in the decision-making process” (Pohli, 2017, p.60). As far as we have seen from high profile retractions like that of Amazon’s gender biased recruitment tool, a robot or AI is only as good as the information that is loaded into it. Even in the most successful of AI deployments to-date, humans are regularly used to cooperate with machine learning and deep learning algorithms to improve accuracy (Forbes, 2018). Refreshingly, Figure Eight Inc. is one example of a company delivering on the concept that machines should augment not replace what we do. “In most cases, AI’s skills are different than a human’s, so we are moving towards a symbiosis of the two” (Bordoli, 2018). This is a far more palatable proposition than one where AI would fully negate the ability or desire of humans to work together or connect or create.

Going underground

So, it’s not that I close my ears to the cries of Seldon & Adiboye (2018) in  ‘The Fourth Education Revolution’ who warn of the obliteration of the role of the human in teaching as early as 2027. I found the ideas mesmerising and useful. It has prepared me for a time when, Sarah Connor style (Terminator 2), I may need to train much harder to fight against the powerful institutions that will ultimately control the feed of the algorithms that will inform future minds. I will fight to the bitter end for education with a human heart. An education in which educators may say goodbye to content-area expertise and embrace technology, but one that continues to directly engage with their learners to build knowledge and means to think for themselves. “The best teachers care about us and inspire us to do our best. And that will never go out of style” (Lynch, 2018).

Already failing the future

Maybe the fight will not even be lost to the machines, but to the economic powers already progressed in financially squeezing the expertise out of our schools and institutions, term by term. I literally weep in my corner, at the very present and wide-scale loss of the ‘human’ from our classrooms across the UK, and not even to some form of mass technological supplementation.  In the UK, schools have been axing teachers and teaching assistants posts en masse just to make ends meet (National Education Union, 2018). In Wales alone, 1,400 teachers have been lost in the last eight years despite pupil numbers falling by just 29 (Wightwick, 2019). And there is not one Liulishuo model in sight to blame. This isn’t progressive efficiency; this is the stuff that should be stealing media attention. If there’s a skill deficiency looming in the not so distant future, then it’s because our education system is already being emptied of human intervention, and to what advantage? Surely business leaders and talent recruiters in every industry in the UK have night terrors now, worrying about the longer term impact.

The next contender

For now, I remain resolute in my opposition to the machine usurping the human in education, that ‘human intervention’ will remain the deciding factor in learning. Yet I ‘m back up on my feet again, and continue to square up to my more immediate human adversaries, the ones that deem it acceptable to conspire or stand back and allow for the incremental obliteration of art, music, sports and drama from our curriculums, where schools abilities to tender individualised support is starved year on year, the resultant effect of which, the life chances of our young generations are being diminished every day, with or without the rise of the machine.


Find me in training for the fight and more on https://emergentthinkers.com

#riseofthemachine #futureofeducation #schoolfundingcuts

Robot photo credit: Franck, V.


Autor, D. (2019) ‘Why are there still so many jobs? The history and future of workplace automation’, The Journal of Economics Perspectives, 29(3), pp.3-30.

Autor, D., Levy, F. & Murnane, R.J. (2003) ‘The skill content of recent technological change: An empirical exploration’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118(4), pp. 1279-1333.

Beard, A. & Kestner, J. (2013) ‘The Open Mind’, VISION PAPERS. PART II: SCHOOL EDUCATION [online]. Available: https://blogs.ec.europa.eu/openeducation2030/files/2013/05/Beard-Kestner-OE-SE-2030-fin.pdf [Accessed 20 June 2019].

Bordoli, R. (2018) ‘This is How AI Will Empower the Workforce of the Future’, 22May 2018 [online]. Available: https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2018/05/ai-future-workforce.html [Accessed 27 June 2019].

Clarke, A.C. (1980) ‘Electronic Tutors’, Omni Magazine, June 1980.

Forbes (2018) ‘Artificial Intelligence Still Needs Human Help’, 10th April 2018 [online]. Available: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2018/04/10/artificial-intelligence-still-needs-human-help/#742d778f7124 [Accessed 27 June 2019].

Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, W., Rhodes, J, Salen, K., Schor, J., Sefton-Green, J. & Watkins, C. (2013) ‘Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design, The Digital Media and Learning Research Hub Reports on Connected Learning: Irvine, CA.

Lynch, M. (2018) ‘Artificial Intelligence will never replace teachers’, The Tech Advocate, 1st March 2018 [online]. Available:

https://www.thetechedvocate.org/artificial-intelligence-will-never-replace-teachers/ [Accessed 27 June 2019].

National Education Union (2018) ‘Schools forced to cut teachers and teaching assistants posts to make ends meet’ . Available: https://neu.org.uk/schools-forced-cut-teachers-and-teaching-assistants-posts-make-ends-meet [Accessed 1 May 2019].

OECD (2019) ‘OECD Employment Outlook 2019: The Future of Work’, April 2019 [online]. Available: https://doi.org/10.1787/9ee00155-en [Accessed 25June 2019].

Paul, M. (2018) ‘Don’t Fear the Robots: Why Automation Doesn’t Mean the End of Work’, The Roosevelt Institute and The Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University.

Pohli, B. (2017) ‘The limitations of automation’, Asian Investor, December 2017/January 2018.

Seldon, A. & Adiboye, O. (2018 ) ‘The Fourth Education Revolution: Will Artificial Intelligence Liberate or Infantilise Humanity’, The University of Buckingham Press: UK.

Wheeler, S. (2019) ‘Opening plenary session’, EDEN Annual Conference 2019 Bruges, 17th June 2019 [online]. Available: https://ytcropper.com/cropped/lv5d0ccdb202f81 [Accessed 25 June 2019].

Wightwick, A. (2019) ‘Wales’ Education Minister tells struggling schools: ‘his is what austerity looks like’, Wales Online, 4 April 2019 [online].  Available: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/education/waleseducation-minister-tells-struggling-16073116  [Accessed 1 May 2019].

5 Replies to “Taking on the machines: the rise of the Educator”

  1. So nice read what many of us think. We don’t talk about the loss of the human from our classrooms enough, the right type of teacher and changes are needed certainly but there is a dark side to an AI takeover.

    Liked by 1 person

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