The future of the school is for everyone
13 September 2018 | Written by La redazione
Another school year has just begun, and it seems like a good time to wonder about how the school will evolve in the future. Can technology really help us learn more and better? Which digital tools will we use to study?
“When I grow up I will be a doctor, but a robotic doctor”. This is what a student told the ICT teacher Vassilios Spachos, who in the highly advanced smart city of Trikala, in Greece, directs the first computer lab ina Greek public school. For some, the Spachos student’s answer could sound almost visionary, but in reality, it is the symptom of a great change in progress: kids today are ready for the future, and they know that there are new opportunities ready to be caught on the horizon.
Opportunities that should find fertile ground in the world of education: in fact, the school must jump ahead and provide students with the most appropriate tools to face the future and all the challenges related to it.
Quality education, for everyone
In 2015, UNESCO adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an action program for the reduction of poverty and the spread of equality and equal opportunities throughout the world, which includes a list of goals to be achieved in the next decade. Among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals one, in particular, is dedicated to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. To achieve this goal, the UNESCO report predicts that in the coming years we will need more teachers, and much more prepared.
It is not difficult, therefore, to understand the attractiveness that the new systems of robotics and artificial intelligence can have in this sector: they could provide support to human teachers in preparing lessons, identifying which subjects are most suitable for a complete education, reach schools in the most remote communities, but also improve the experience of students with disabilities thanks to more appropriate tools.
Even if someone still finds the idea of teaching robots scary, many are pointing out that these tools could be extremely useful for a more affordable education that is accessible all over the world. Perhaps instead of “stealing” the work of our kids, these robots will be able to prepare them for careers that today we struggle to imagine.
Teaching robots and where to find them
Or so Thomas Frey, a former IBM engineer and founder of DaVinci’s Institute, a networking company that promotes technical innovation at different levels, thinks. According to Frey, in fact, in just 14 years learning from robots will be a common practice, especially for the younger ones. This does not mean that the “education bots” will entirely replace real teachers but, quite simply, that their use could provide new opportunities and resources to all the students to fulfill their aspirations.
But surely we will need human teachers for a long time: “Teachers rely heavily on personal interactions to provide support to their students and understand what they need” – Rose Luckin, professor at the University College London Knowledge Lab, a research center that studies how digital media can influence education, explained – “So far, no digital system has yet managed to overcome humans in this area”. According to Luckin in the future there will be artificial intelligence systems that will work, rather, as teachers’ assistants: they could manage activities such as the attendance list, or student assessments, but also update teachers with new lesson ideas. In this way, the workload would be lightened and would allow teachers to spend more time and resources on the children.
A first example of this technology is already being experimented in New Zealand, where Will, a digital avatar that uses artificial intelligence to teach children, made his entrance in a primary school. For now, Will is just a face on a screen with which students can interact and focus on one subject, renewable energy. But this result already bodes well for the future applications of this instrument.
The (inevitable) dark side
But these technologies are already making enemies: such as the students of some Chinese schools that installed surveillance systems able to detect distracted high school students. This system, active since March in the school of Hangzhou in eastern China, uses a facial recognition system that, thanks to three cameras installed in the front of the classroom, scans the faces of the students and determines their facial expression. This “smart eye” alerts the teacher in real time if it notices that a student appears distracted. The teacher can also view a report at the end of the class that provides an average of each student’s expressions.
The Chinese school system is already notoriously demanding and technology like this only increases the pressure on students, whose mental health can be put at risk. One of them explained: “I do not dare to get distracted since they installed the cameras in the classrooms. It’s like a pair of mysterious eyes watching me constantly”.
“Students are not machines. Every human being can have moments when their mind wanders”, wrote a user on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.
In short, facial recognition can help when it comes to framing criminals, but is it right to use it to force students to be careful in class? Sure is that, when it comes to technologies applied to the world of education, there are much more interesting uses.