‘AI will replace rubbish teachers’

2nd October 2015 at 01:00
Handwriting will also die out, gaming entrepreneur predicts

Artificial intelligence will replace poor teachers in the classroom, but the jobs of “phenomenal teachers” will remain safe no matter how advanced technology becomes, according to an entrepreneur at the forefront of Scotland’s flourishing gaming industry.

During his closing keynote speech at last week’s Scottish Learning Festival, Chris van der Kuyl also urged teachers to accept that handwriting would die out and described classroom bans on mobile phones as “absolutely mental”.

“We live in an age where you’re experiencing the fastest change [in technology] you’ve ever experienced in your life,” Mr van der Kuyl said. “Things are changing today faster than they ever have in anyone’s lifetime – and it’ll be the slowest pace of change you’ll ever experience again.”

Even recent innovations such as tablets and smartphones would soon be obsolete, according to Mr van der Kuyl, chairman of games development company 4J Studios. He added that while teachers would still be needed, those who weren’t able to use technology were likely to struggle.

“Do I believe that AI will absolutely replace phenomenal teachers? Not at all,” he said. “It will probably replace pretty rubbish teachers, but I think they act like a bad piece of AI at the moment and regurgitate the same old crap year after year.”

Mr van der Kuyl railed against banning smartphones in classrooms, saying: “That’s absolutely mental. That’s like saying, you can’t take a notebook to school – they’re banned because you could write really seditious and crazy remarks.”

He acknowledged that phones could be disruptive and that there should be rules around their use, but equated wholesale bans to Luddism. It made no sense to marginalise the computing power in pupils’ pockets when it was “infinitely more powerful” than the technology that put Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969, he added.

The entrepreneur recalled the “enormous furore” over Finnish schools ceasing to teach handwriting, likening it to our forebears getting worked up about the loss of cave painting.

“We don’t have the luxury of things taking hundreds of years to change anymore, they change ridiculously quickly…Everything we know today, we’d better get ready to throw away pretty soon,” he told the audience in Glasgow.

Embrace tech to ‘free up budget’

Mr van der Kuyl dismissed concerns that the cost of such change was prohibitive for schools – “if you embrace technology and use it properly, you’ll free up budget” – and advised teachers to ignore “the naysayers around you in the staffroom”.

He bemoaned the standard of computer science in schools and the narrow focus on teaching children certain packages. He also warned changes to qualifications had squeezed computing by reducing the number of subjects that pupils took in S3-4.

“Teaching pupils how to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint is never going to prepare them to create visionary products – to dream that they can change the world. All it does is turn them into good consumers of those products [made by] people who have got that imagination,” he added.

Mr van der Kuyl said he feared that Scotland would become a “third-division nation” unless politicians underlined how essential technology was in the 21st century. He added that education policymakers had a tendency to talk up innovations before, at the first sign of anything going wrong, regressing to a “back to basics” approach where technology was sidelined.

He called on Scotland to ditch its tourist-centric “tartan and shortbread” image and embark on a “new enlightenment” driven by digital technology and ideas, which must “start with our education system”.

To watch the presentation and other talks from the Scottish Learning Festival, go to bit.ly/ChrisVdK

Verdict from the Twitterati

If you like education, technology and passion then you need to watch @chrisvdk


Feeling inspired, I have seen a glimpse of the future. @elmmorrison

Loved hearing the call to arms for teachers by @chrisvdk @learnincolour

Very inspiring and very much addictive, like your dad’s passion for ICT [the late Tony van der Kuyl founded the Scottish Interactive Technology Centre at the University of Edinburgh] @StarWarsIsReal

Outstanding final keynote. Feeling very inspired about the future of technology in education.


We don’t all have to march to your increasingly faster techno beat.


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