Artificial intelligence - will teachers become both centaurs and cyborgs?

Posted on: 12 Apr 2024
Posted by: Will Scott

Will Scott, principal at Dame Allan’s Schools in Newcastle, considers the impact of artificial intelligence on teachers and the future of education.

As we make our way through 2024, a widely swinging debate rages on about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI), on everything from driving, to jobs, to the future of humankind. Futurologists may predict the myriad ways in which AI will improve our lives, or wreck them, but the majority - who, perhaps quite sensibly, don't closely follow sensational AI stories - note how useless their smart speaker is.  
It seems that the impact of AI will be felt “gradually and then suddenly” to quote Ernest Hemingway, as more of us come into contact with people using it in their work and firms invest in AI-enabled systems. Some even foresee "the end of work" as intelligent robots replace people across swathes of industry, necessitating a whole new structure for taxation and a universal basic income paid by the state to all.
So, how will this play out?  As a teacher, I'm particularly interested in the potential impact of AI in the education of children, the role of the teacher and the future of schools. It’s even more important when we consider that the North East has one of the highest rates of AI usage amongst pupils in the UK. Over a third (39 per cent) of pupils in the region are using it “all the time” to help with schoolwork, which is 10 per cent higher than the UK average. 

However, it is perhaps worth considering the nature and purpose of work for a moment.  

Humans need periods of struggle, difficulty, disappointment, success, and growth. Cycles of confronting meaningful challenge, experiencing failure, and finding ways to prevail are at the centre of the human experience and are necessary for our wellbeing: we all need purpose. I see this valuable cycle often in pupils from across Dame Allan’s Schools as they rise to new challenges, learning and developing resilience and confidence as they go. 

Compare a lion in the wild with a zoo animal. If we didn't have work, where else would we find our challenges and how would we estimate their value?  Would we spend our lives doing extreme sports, writing self-published novels and making Guinness Record attempts?
I don't only believe that work is necessary for meaning in our lives. It is also possible to foresee humans continuing to be necessary for work, despite the development of AI.  A recent Harvard Business School study noted that the more multi-faced the role, the less it is at risk of complete automation.  The authors coined the terms “cyborg” and “centaur” to describe those who were able best to benefit from AI in improving their productivity, the former being those who intertwined AI with their human input and the latter being able to divide up their work to hand off the more AI-suited parts while focusing on their areas of expertise. 

And this, I think, gives us a clue about the future of schools and learning.  Teachers have a multi-faceted role, from caring for children to inspiring them, working with them creatively to help them learn and develop. It is a hugely social role and the benefit to children is not, as we know, just a narrowly academic one.  

But will our work change?  Absolutely, and AI will provide an increasingly large toolkit for us to work more effectively, making the best use of our valuable time. For example, AI can streamline administrative tasks, such as lesson planning and report writing, allowing teachers more time for the human, pastoral aspects of their roles. At Dame Allan’s, we are excited to embrace this change and have recently appointed an AI lead to chart the way ahead. 

Over the years to come, teachers will possibly become both “cyborgs” and “centaurs”, even as we grow the next generation of adaptable and multi-skilled citizens to face the challenges and opportunities of the future.  

About Will Scott

Will Scott is the principal of Dame Allan's Schools.