There is a lot of speculation regarding the future of teaching and learning in compulsory education, especially with recent developments in technology. The world-wide release of ChatGPT and other generative artificial intelligence platforms have created a plethora of new, even more difficult, questions. What role will these AI systems play in classrooms? What do students need to learn to succeed in an AI saturated world? How will teaching change? How do you strike a balance between teachers and machines? And obviously, will AI replace teachers or other education workers?
Although teacher unions may not have the answers, they cannot stand by and let others determine the answers. The world’s education unions must come together and proactively shape the way emerging technologies are used in our schools and classrooms. If we snooze, we lose.
Before we dig a little deeper, I will start where every school system must start—personal safety, online security, and ensuring equity. Although some countries and jurisdictions have strong policies to protect privacy and data, they are the exception and not the rule. Moreover, the rate at which new technologies are being developed, previous regulations and even some current proposed regulations will likely fall short. The rabbit-like way new technology comes online will always outpace the tortoise we call governmental action.
This is where unions must step in. Yes, we must continually push for even stronger regulations, but waiting for others to defend and protect our professions is a losing strategy. And our profession cannot afford to lose.
Leading AI-induced changes in the teaching and learning process
Undoubtedly, the role of teachers will change in the future. Most agree teachers will not be replaced by AI, but the power of generative AI will require teachers to become less the “deliverers of content” and more coaches of learning—deeper learning. This new role is not necessarily a bad one, but that all depends on us. Even more than what is happening today, it will require teachers to develop increased higher-order thinking skills in their students. Skills such as collaborative learning, critical thinking, problem solving, multi-disciplinary approaches, and real-world application. For sure, all of these are part classroom lessons today but, using a common American saying, this part of teaching and learning needs to “go on steroids.” Whatever teachers were doing in the past needs to expand and be greatly enhanced. That is the reality of preparing students for an AI world.
This focus on deeper learning and advanced thinking will become part of every curriculum. Classes that emphasize understanding, motivation, and problem solving will become an essential part of educating for the future. AI-led instruction may allow students to learn at their own pace using adaptive algorithms that continuously adjust the content and difficulty based on student interaction. However, AI cannot teach the thinking skills that will become an integral part of future success. That is the role teachers must play.
Teachers like to say that they don’t teach kids what to think, they teach them how to think. With the infusion of AI in every part of society, this belief system will be put to the test. The future needs strong independent thinkers who can determine good information from bad and apply that knowledge in a comprehensive way, not to solve a problem or two on a standardized test, but to solve today’s complex real-world problems, and whatever the world throws at them in the future.
The implications of AI on teaching and learning starts with ensuring current teachers have the support and learning opportunities that, frankly, do not exist today—at least not at scale. Teacher preparation programs will also need to profoundly change. The interaction between administration, schools, and teachers will need to be reimagined. And importantly, the way learning will be assessed will fundamentally change. The obsession with standardized tests and other large-scale assessments will slowly come to an end. With AI in the classroom assessment will be built-in, and a fundamental part of the personalized learning process. Success will be measured in terms of individual students and not across the board averages.
The days of the one teacher, one classroom model is slowly also coming to an end. There will be a mix of traditional face-to-face instruction, team teaching online learning, project-based lessons, and an emphasis on collaboration and student team-based learning. This will require not only a change in teaching, but a major rethinking of schools’ physical space. This new model will require school buildings to be reconfigured away from a hallway of single purpose classrooms we see today to a more interactive environment that allows both small and large group work. These new schools will allow teams of teachers to leverage the strengths of each in a learning format that will maximize instruction.
Protecting the most vulnerable systems
This does not mean that all countries will see schools change in the same way. Schools in democratic countries will be able to leverage the power of regulation and political expediency to help ensure AI-based changes to schools protect—to the extent possible—the privacy and security of students and adults. But that will not be the case in other parts of the world.
Just like we see with corporate driven privatization, schools in systems that are not run democratically and lack resources will be seen as frontiers of profit for big tech. The power of multinational corporations will overwhelm the rights of students and citizens alike. Governments will be forced to accept corporate mandates or risk being left behind. And even worse, international monetary funds may play a significant role in this process. We have seen this type of educational blackmail before, and with the AI revolution in education, we are likely to see it again.
What does all this mean? It means a lot of things are going to change in and around schools. Artificial intelligence has created both challenges and opportunities that will require lots of decisions about the future of the teaching profession in the next few years. Teacher unions must lead addressing the challenges and leveraging the opportunities. Just as the pandemic was a once-in-a-lifetime event, the AI revolution in education is a unique point in time—the outcome will influence education for decades.
The artificial intelligence revolution is at the schoolhouse doorstep. As teacher unions, we must be proactive and respond. If not, we will see even more de-professionalization and commercialization of our work. All of us see a brighter future where AI can aid our educators, but we must prevent it from devaluing the educational experience, and those who work and learn in schools. Teacher unions must be at the forefront of this revolution. If not, others will determine the nature of schools, the teaching profession, and the future of education for us. In a real sense, if we snooze, we lose.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.