It’s not like teaching was ever easy. That oft feted quality in children, one which philosophers and scientists are exhorted to hold on to, can be quite taxing to deal with day in and day out. As an idea, curiosity is wonderful. But the constant “whys”, unique to human beings, have no end, and its unfair to expect zen-like equanimity from school teachers as they try to translate the mysteries of the universe into digestible tit-bits for pre-teens. Luckily, help is on the way. In Finland, efforts are on to provide teachers with a prosthetic for patience.
Elias, a new language teacher in a Finnish elementary school, is adept at 23 languages, never gets tired or bored or frustrated, and is reportedly quite the hit with her pupils. Elias is also a robot. One of four androids in a pilot programme, the one-foot tall Power Ranger look-alike can answer questions, recognise students’ learning levels and provide reports and feedback to teachers about possible gaps in their wards’ learning. A synthetic, AI-powered teacher may make some people uncomfortable, given the fears around the Fourth Industrial Revolution and automation. But for teachers, any tool to help circumnavigate the challenges of teaching in an internet age ought to be welcome.
As search engines and algorithms replace encyclopaedias and libraries, tools like Elias are bound to become a more salient part of teaching. After all, memory has been outsourced since the written word came into place and an android is merely an engaging vessel through which children can access AI and internet-based learning software. Teaching, as a profession, can conceivably be enhanced by the use of such protocols. Freed from the dissemination of knowledge, assisted in assessing students, teachers can direct their attention to individual students who need it, and provide perspective rather than facts. If nothing else, Elias might free them from the tyranny of the young’s “why”. After all, impatience is all too human.