Will artificial intelligence make teaching more fun?

Artificial intelligence will take a heavy burden off teachers, but children must still commit knowledge to memory, writes Tom Rogerson

AI could make schools more fun places to work

The good thing about technology is that if you sit out the hype when it first comes out and wait for the beta or better versions, you have likely saved yourself energy and time.

Early adopters in education are often disappointed at the shallowness of new technology’s effect on outcomes. Counterintuitively, technology can often weaken academic resilience and outcomes, especially if used too literally, too much or without a purpose in mind.

Having computers do the intellectual leg work for you is relieving, comfortable and convenient but can serve to ensure that nothing sticks in that noggin – like informational Teflon for the memory. The greatest danger to human consciousness is placing “all knowledge” outside of the human brain.

“The anti-knowledge acquisition brigade believe we don’t need to commit it to our own memories.”

“There is a growing cohort of educationalists who are obsessed with a misinformed, anti-knowledge, pro-skills agenda. It is a typically reductionist stance which does not benefit the student and future adult.

My great rallying cry is that one cannot exist without the other; there has to be a perfect 50/50 split between skills and knowledge acquisition in schools and in life. The anti-knowledge acquisition brigade believe that because information is on the internet, we don’t need to commit it to our own memories.

My argument is that we have always stored words and pictures so that the ideas can be shared at a later date. What does it matter whether the information has been daubed on a cave wall or it is stored in a mega digital data centre in a Californian desert?

We still need to understand detailed concepts in a deep and ordered way in order to progress. The other fact is that there is no creativity without knowledge. One has to “know” or understand two things in order to merge these things together and create a new thing.

“If we outsource or delegate creativity, then we are outsourcing our very direction as a species.”

We must preserve the sanctity of human creativity; which begs the question, is it worth saving? And if the answer is no, then all sorts of existential questions arise.

The danger of outsourcing knowledge retention is that we are then outsourcing creativity. If we outsource or delegate creativity, then we are outsourcing our very direction as a species.

The brain is a muscle. Memory is a muscle. If one ceases to use the brain to memorise or to create, it becomes weak and withered, like muscles when not used. Although seemingly an unfashionable thought, I support the concept of examinations for this reason.

One of the roles of exams is to create a burning bridge to learn things, so that we can then be creative.

However, a new, disruptive technology exists and this time it is different. Artificial intelligence has the potential to reduce the workload of teachers, and this is something in which I am very interested.

According to news reports, there is a recruitment and retention crisis in the state sector – the United States seems particularly blighted. Marking at midnight is not fun. Being given yet another, weekly initiative to get one’s head around is also a classic bugbear for teachers. Writing policies, to some, is mind-numbing.

“AI might help to make schools more fun and light, while still allowing teachers to teach with rigour and purpose.”

The reason why teachers go into teaching is to teach, and to engage with students, not to stare into a computer screen for days and weeks at a time and certainly not to live in fear of the next key “urgent” and potentially career-ending initiative.

Cottesmore held its own solution to the AI phenomenon: a festival in its honour – Cottesmore’s Free AI Festival at the start of term.

We offered thought leadership lectures and practical masterclass sessions on how to use AI to make your life better as a professional. This stuff might well be the solution the teaching industry needs to shore up recruitment and ensure retention of teachers.

I believe that AI might help to make the environment a lot more fun and light, while still allowing schools to teach with rigour and purpose.

This information should not be proprietorial and schools should have the opportunity to share this with each and every teacher, teaching assistant and leader.

Cottesmore has also commissioned an academic paper to be written by Cambridge scholar Dr Philippa Hardman on “The AI Divide” in order to catalyse the sharing of the benefits of AI far and wide across all sectors – both state-funded and independent.

This paper could prove very useful for the DfE’s “Call for Evidence on AI in Education” team.

AI will become part of every day life at Cottesmore and hopefully many schools in the UK and around the world. I don’t think that we can sit this one out and wait for the next bus. The time is now and the future is here.

**Cottesmore School will be hosting a free conference on AI and SEN on Friday, November 10 at the school in Pease Pottage, West Sussex. For more information, email .