BETT 2016: 'Not all teachers need to be human'

Current teaching methods are "obsolete", and pupils' education should instead focus on technology, according to an expert.

Rather than teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, schools must focus on teaching children about "comprehension, communication and computation," said Newcastle University's Professor Sugata Mitra at the BETT technology show in London today.

He claimed schools still have an environment that produces workers fit for the offices of 100 years ago where most people worked in isolation from each other.

Saying the working environment is now more about using technology and collaboration, Mitra accused schools of having failed to reflect these changes.

"Old teaching methods are obsolete and everyone accepts it is a problem," he told delegates, adding that children can even learn by themselves, without needing a teacher to direct their efforts.

In 1999, Mitra devised a "hole-in-the-wall" computer for children living in a nearby slum in India to use. Without adult guidance, the children quickly learned how to use the computer, get on the internet and develop analytical skills to start learning by themselves.

But soon after, he realised that some form of adult supervision was necessary and could improve results. But rather than use a teacher, volunteers, not necessarily familiar with the subjects that the children were learning about, could be used to provide "admiration" of the children's efforts.

He dubbed this a "granny cloud" because these adults could phone in via Skype video to be a presence without having to be there in person.

These supervisors led to further refinements that Mitra dubbed "self-organised learning environments. "The process of self-organised learning can by helped by an adult that admires the process," he said.

Mitra added that schools' current assessment system to examine pupils' achievements looks "for identical responses from learners".

"Open-ended questions cannot be asked in such assessments, we need a new assessment system," said Mitra.

He added that children ask why they cannot use their smartphones and tablets inside exam rooms, and warned that a fair evaluation of such a new assessment "is not possible by human examiners".

"More research on automated and continuous evaluation if open-ended questions and tasks is needed," he said, claiming schools must be redesigned to help children enjoy learning.

"Schools and teachers should exist in physical and virtual environments," he added. "Not all teachers need to be human."

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.