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Rachel Jenkins

Robots can help, but it is teachers who inspire pupils

Sir Anthony Seldon believes that robots will bring about the next education revolution. I heard this almost ten years ago when robots were apparently going to take over teaching languages in southeast Asia.

Seldon, like me a schoolmaster and historian by trade, reflects on past revolutions in education: the first revolution of knowledge exchange (perhaps ending when Constantinople fell in the 15th century); the second when institutions for learning were formed (the “ancients” in Britain among others); and the third when the printing press saw knowledge travel further than by the speed of word.

However, before we rush to harness a fourth revolution (a digital dominie one might assume), we might consider the education revolutions against other revolutions of the time and the importance of the interlinked speed of trust.

For education is not simply the transit of knowledge from person to person, place to place. It needs assurance, authenticity and approval for it to be credible and well-received. The information must be well-formed as well as well-received. And that reception changes over time, place and perception.

As much as education has itself developed, it sits amid a web of social, economic and political change. It cannot be extrapolated. The agricultural revolution still affects the school term and holiday structure; the industrial revolution influences the year group structure; and ideas from factory-line progress, the political revolution and democratisation affect expansion of provision, comprehensive assumptions and pupil voice. In addition, the scientific revolution has resulted in an increase in data on results, student and school progress and probability profiling of interventions against the variables that make us complex Homo sapiens.

The art of leadership, throughout the ages, is bringing clarity to complexity and placing everything in context. That is what educationalists do. They support human development, their emotions, their flourishing and advancing aspirations in complex skills, topics and knowledge amid a backdrop of external factors. One might question if “artificial intelligence” is that advanced at this stage.

Maybe the next education revolution is best served by returning to values and principles and not jumping to “the next big thing”.

Let’s take education back to people, passion and progress, not programs. The computer can support the process, but it is the dominie who inspires the pupil.