Could You Lose Your Teaching Job to a Robot?

Carrie Schmelkin : Gossip from the Hallways
Carrie Schmelkin
Web Editor, TMC

Could You Lose Your Teaching Job to a Robot?

21st Century cinema often stares into the Magic Eight Ball and projects a future filled with robots as babysitters, food in the form of pills, teleporters and computers that talk back to you in the workplace. But what about robots as teachers?

Is that just a scary motion-picture concept or a very feasible reality?

While I don’t want to worry you educators out there, robots are already starting to replace teachers, specifically in South Korean schools. Earlier this year it was reported that EngKey – a robot designed to replace native English-speaking teachers – had already been rolled out in 21 schools in South Korea in January alone. EngKey, an interactive robot, is on-site to help students with their English pronunciation and language while still making students feel as though they have a teacher present through telepresence technology.

Instead of paying a teacher to be in the class, EngKey allows English teachers to provide instruction to students from thousands of miles away. Teachers are able to see and hear the students by interacting with the children through a microphone and camera that is placed on the robot. While the robot uses a human-like avatar on the screen, the teachers aren’t actually seen; however, EngKey can mimic the teacher’s facial expressions by the use of a camera.

In five years, South Korea hopes to replace the need for native English-speaking teachers and, accordingly, save the South Korean government an exorbitant amount of money.

A few months ago, South Korea once again showed its commitment to robotics with the introduction of the KIRO robot to its schools. The robot, created by Korea's Robot Institute, was originally created to serve as a museum guide. However, the popularity of the robot increased so quickly that schools soon began clamoring to have the bot visit the schools. 

Instead of a tummy, the KIRO robot boasts a screen that can display everything from the screen shot “A is for Apple” to a picture in a museum. The robot can dance, talk and shake hands. Over the summer, KIRO completed its three-week test run as a kindergarten aide.

While robots as teachers and remote learning can certainly bring advantages to places that are more removed such as the Outback of Australia or the tundra of Alaska, it also begs the question: “But what will happen to teachers in more inhabited places?”

Will those in the education market find themselves replaced by plastic and steel in a few years? Is education a bad field to be in? How will our kids respond to a robot in the classroom?

I don’t have my Magic Eight ball handy but I will make a few predictions of my own and, while I don’t want to say it, I think things will eventually look a little grimmer for teachers. Although there will always be a need for human teachers (after all robots can’t offer compassion during a bullying incident or serve as true disciplinarians), I think robots will infiltrate our schools in different ways.

For example, why pay a teaching assistant $25,000 when you can pay someone a few hours a day to remotely use telepresence and the robot to help around the class. In fact, teacher’s aides might be the biggest group that will be affected by robots since the robot is certainly cheaper.

The bottom line is that times are still tough, technology is accelerating at a rapid pace and there are more teachers than ever before out of work who are competing not only with each other but with modern day inventions.

My advice to all the teachers out there is to make yourself indispensible.  Choose the elementary school route if you can as robots will probably hit elementary schools last as young children need much more coddling and hand holding than teens. Moreover, become an expert in more than one subject. A teacher who can teach English and Social Studies is much more likely to stick around than a teacher who can just instruct on Science.

Who knew we would create technology that could end up un-employing the human race?

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