Teachers for teachers shortages, not robots

04 mar. 2018 |

Reflections from Estella Owoimaha-Church (United States of America), Varkey Teacher Ambassador

Paulo Freire wrote, “…a revolution is achieved…with reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.” Since being named a Global Teacher Prize Finalist (GTP), my year has consisted of just that: reflection, action, and working to transform structures.

I have thought extensively – journaling and in dialogue with colleagues –  about the profession beyond myself, our learning environments and my role in elevating the status of educators, locally and globally.

There are many pressing issues to consider as we start to see robots or artificial intelligence as sustainable solutions to global teacher shortages.

The Global Education & Skills Forum 2017 began to address them last year in the Debate Chamber, where I joined Sir Michael Wilshaw, Justine Cassell (Carnegie Mellon Univesity), Fred Van Leeuwen (Education International) and Carla Aerts (UCL Institute of Education) to contest whether robots could replace teachers.

According to an EdWeek article on the teacher shortage, U.S. educators cited salary, school climate, and autonomy as the most significant factors in choosing to leave a school site or the profession.

My fear is if educators and the profession are not uplifted in a way that supports teachers and is student-centered; if cultural climates do not improve to engender a healthy workforce; if we do not arm new and veteran teachers with tools for self-care; we will continue to lose great educators and remain ineffective at retaining new teachers.

What I realized, after joining the Varkey Teacher Ambassadors global community of rock-star educators, is I cannot provide a safe and healthy learning environment if I am not personally at my best. Too often I have realised that teachers (including myself) put others before their own wellbeing.

Consequently, schools and institutions might grow desperate and believe that technology might seem the only solution. Cost effective, even. Instead of teacher-training or being concerned with climate, robots will be tasked to educate.

How do we stop the field from hemorrhaging educators? How do we curtail robotizing learning spaces? At the Global Education & Skills Forum in 2018 I am looking forward to carrying forward discussions around the safety – including mental health – of children (and teachers themselves).

To begin the dialogue, here is my reflection on this past year as a Global Teacher Prize Finalist:

  1. Isolation is stifling and can mute motivation but is absolutely manageable – especially when you can connect with others in the profession.
  2. Your frustrations are valid but do not define you.
  3. Your worth as an educator is determined by you, your impact on communities and students’ lives.
  4. We are not alone in our commitment to serve which makes us one of the most powerful forces on this earth and we should remain emboldened by that fact.
  5. Technology is a tool. Like any tool, it aids, assists, or enhances.
  6. Student-centered is not a buzz phrase. It is daily practice.
  7. Self-care must remain a priority.
  8. We know what’s best for our students because we know our students best. Remind outsiders of this fact whenever necessary.
  9. Prioritize what truly matters. What truly matter is not always content or subject matter specific.
  10. There are very few things I have found to be as important as teaching and practicing empathy explicitly. – something robots cannot do naturally.

The Global Education and Skills Forum is taking place on 17th and 18th March 2018 in Dubai, UAE, with the theme of “How do we prepare young people for the world of 2030 and beyond?” I am looking forward to the Future Talk on Saturday 17th March on How AI and Robotics will reshape education.