Is It Possible for Robots to Replace Teachers?
Thu, January 27, 2022

Is It Possible for Robots to Replace Teachers?

It’s been proven that in as little as 3 hours, robots can learn techniques to support teachers in the classroom. / Photo by: besjunior via 123rf


Andre Perry of independent education news platform The Hechinger Report argued that AI (and robotics) cannot replace teaching. In Perry’s perspective, it’s possible to memorize the parts of a frog, for example, online, but it will never compare to dissecting one in a lab with students and a quality teacher. 

He added, though, where it can be successfully applied, and mentioned China’s state-run Xinhua news agency, which introduced its newest anchor called “English AI Anchor” at the World Internet Conference in Zhejiang Province. The AI-powered anchor learns from live broadcasting videos by itself and can read texts naturally like a professional anchor. To Perry, we are living in a world where robots will accomplish jobs that were once exclusively done by humans, just not in teaching.

Robots Learn Techniques in Just Three Hours

On the other hand, it’s been proven that in as little as three hours, robots can learn techniques to support teachers in the classroom, according to research conducted by Dr. Emmanuel Senft and colleagues of non-profit organization AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science). The study, which was published in AAAS’ Science Robotics, witnessed a robot being programmed to “learn autonomous behavior from human demonstrations and guidance.” 

A human teacher controlled the robot while teaching it how to assist students in an educational activity. Afterward, it was able to support the pupils autonomously. The advice provided by the robot to the students “was shown to be consistent” with that of the teacher. Senft and colleagues stated that the technique could be beneficial to teachers, considering they “face increasing demands with their time.” It could also be helpful to pupils given that along with teachers, using robots in the classroom can be beneficial for their education. 

The researchers added that robots have a “considerable potential” for a variety of other sensitive applications like in eHealth and assistive robotics. The project was coordinated by researchers at the University of Plymouth, collaborating with other researchers at the University of Lincoln and the University of the West of England.  They analyzed a system called SPARC (Supervised Progressively Autonomous Robot Competencies) through a series of assessments, demonstrating that a robot could be taught by a teacher in an activity in three hours. 

Apparently, the robot executed actions “with a different frequency than the teacher.” Even so, it only performed actions demonstrated by the teacher, learning the dynamics associated “to each type of action.” The robot’s behavior had a positive impact on children, as it can support them through social actions like praise and encouragement. 

The researchers explained that this could prove useful in future human-robot interactions, as it would encourage scientists to take a new approach in designing robotic controllers. Usually, domain experts “describe a behavior to be implemented by engineers.” Instead, the researchers’ approach helps empower end-users to directly teach a robot. 

Senft said that creating autonomous robot behaviors is a challenge in social robotics in technical and ethical terms alike. “My dream is that everyone should be able to profit from robots, not only engineers, and I think allowing people to teach robots to interact is the way to go,” he added. 

Professor Tony Belpaeme from the University of Plymouth and Ghent University acknowledged the positive effects of using robots in the classroom but making them work to support pupils, “in a way that teachers can trust is a real challenge.” Belpaeme also noted that they need to build “greater acceptance and trust” among teachers since they said the robot did not help reduce their workload.  


Robots could be helpful to pupils given that along with teachers, using it in the classroom can be beneficial for their education. / Photo by: Dmytro Zinkevych via 123rf



Can Robots Replace Teachers?

More and more industries are resorting to the use of AI and robotics, but what’s in store for the education sector? The question of robots and AI replacing educators looms even larger, wrote Amelia Harper of Education Dive, an education news and analysis website. Vice chancellor of the University of Buckingham Anthony Seldon forecasted that “robots will replace teachers by 2027.” That’s less than a decade away, although some assert that robots will never replace teachers. 

Seldon said “inspirational robots” are possible since they can be adapted into each student’s individual learning style. To a certain extent, robot teachers may sound appealing since human teachers are costly “and in increasingly short supply.” Unlike human teachers, robots do not require pension, pay, or healthcare. Robots are “fairly reliable” and do not have “preconceived notions” about an individual’s race or gender that can affect the “delivery of knowledge and expectations.” 

But education is more than just facts and lectures. It’s also about shaping the minds of young people and forging relationships. Teachers inspire their students to think for themselves and innovate new solutions. They also show students how to thirst for knowledge. Students need to be motivated and guided. They also need warmth, attention, and encouragement. Harper said this is not something robots and AI cannot do.
For now, it still looks like robots are unlikely to replace human teachers in the future. They can only act as aides or “assistants” in the classroom by supporting pupils and easing the workload off of teachers’ shoulders. Robots help augment teachers’ skills and optimize the delivery of knowledge, but they can never replace them.