Education International
Education International

World Economic Forum: Teachers won’t be substituted by robots, panel agrees

published 16 January 2017 updated 23 January 2017

Many discussions at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos revolved around how technology impacts society now and in future. The Varkey Foundation and Education International jointly hosted a debate to address this question in relation to education.

The Varkey Foundation’s Vikas Potas and EI’s Angelo Gavrielatos opened and framed the discussion, entitled “Robots vs. Humans: The teacher of the future? Implications of the 4th Industrial Revolution for Education Systems”. Gavrielatos referred to Andreas Schleicher’s recent report Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, which warns against “too many false hopes” in relation to technology.

“There is no doubt,” he said, “that advances in technology will play an important role in education. The teaching and learning process can be enriched by the appropriate integration of new technologies into everyday use in classrooms.” But, he went on, the social and human dimension of teaching and learning is dependent on qualified teachers as the leading agents in the development and delivery of life opportunity for the development of the whole child.

Interventions by Rajesh Agrawal (Deputy Mayor of London), Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen (Plan International), Stefano Aversa (Alix Partners), Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz (University of Cambridge), Esteban Bullrich (Minister of Education, Argentina), Professor Justine Cassell (Carnegie Mellon University), Alexander De Croo (Deputy Prime Minister, Belgium), Nicolaus Henke (McKinsey), Salil Shetty (Amnesty International), Hakubun Shimomura (former Minister of Education, Japan), among others, all emphasized how technology, done right, can help teachers in their practice, but not supplant them in the classroom.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, who concluded the debate, referenced Jacques Delors’ A treasure within in her remarks, highlighting how nobody can substitute good teachers, but technology can help them form global citizens that learn to know, learn to do, learn to live together and learn to be.

“A clear consensus emerged during these discussions,” EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen summed up the interventions. “Where an educational case, based on evidence, for the introduction of new technologies can be made, this approach can help teachers tackle challenges. The potential benefits of new technologies can be fully realised when teachers, the qualified professionals with the expertise in pedagogy, are involved in their design and development.”

A recap of the discussion is available below.