Robots will never replace teachers, says science centre chief

Empathy and other essential qualities in the classroom cannot be replicated by artificial intelligence, he believes

Henry Hepburn

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Teachers’ skills will never be rendered obsolete by artificial intelligence (AI), according to the chief executive of Scotland’s biggest science centre.

Stephen Breslin, of Glasgow Science Centre, believes that the ability to empathise with students will always differentiate humans from machines.

“You could never replace that absolutely essential personal connection,” says Breslin, of a student-teacher bond which helps identify and resolve pupils’ highly individual learning problems.

In an interview with Tes Scotland, Breslin lists several qualities of a good teacher which he believes AI cannot match: “Empathy, helping young people develop social skills, communication skills, helping them explore the creative process, develop problem-solving abilities, helping them to create and imagine – these are the things that you can’t automate, and they remain the unique traits of human beings.”

He adds: “We’ll automate specific tasks and job functions, and the nature of jobs will change. But you’re always going to need that personal connection.”

Breslin also believes, however, that teachers will have to change the way they teach to keep pace with a fast-changing world of work, as “the key skills our young people are going to have to have [will be] based around creativity, communication, and innovative and entrepreneurial thinking”.

He adds that advances in technology offer “the promise of a better, more comprehensive education, which would free the teacher up to become more of a mentor and a learning coach than the source of the knowledge”, allowing greater personalisation of learning in school.

Breslin is in the process of preparing Idea #59, a showcase exhibition on AI, big data and robotics to open late this year or early in 2019. A longer piece on his interview appears in today's issue of Tes Scotland.

In January, new education secretary Damian Hinds said that technology would make teachers’ jobs easier but would not replace them.

Last year, however, Sir Anthony Seldon – vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham and a former headteacher – argued that the inspirational teachers of the future would be intelligent machines rather than humans.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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