By Praveen Nirmalan
Response to – Why not replace a Human teacher with a Robot teacher? – Part 2
We looked at robots replacing teachers in the realm of education from a brief perspective of “function”, with function narrowly limited to “what is done”. That requires further exploration but I feel an urge to branch into another closely related aspect- the outcomes to further understand the function of a teacher.
As in any other sphere of life, the function or process is closely related to the outcomes. A single process may lead to a single or multiple outcomes. For instance, eating something may lead to a satiation of hunger, anger, even sickness. There can be different levels of pleasure, different levels of discomfort and a large set of feelings in the grey zone. A single outcome may also be the result of a single process or multiple processes. Thus, a particular outcome may have only one antecedent cause or can have many precedents causes working in isolation or in combination. A process and outcome are interlinked in obvious or subtle ways.
What are the outcomes of an education? What do people expect from an education? What do you want when you learn something or when you send your children to receive an education?
I think it is a fair presumption that most people want the education to give some perceivable advantage or security relating to work, either in the present or future. We do often hear “ We want our child to become a,b,c, after schooling ”. We choose a set of higher courses keeping in mind the ability to get a job, not just any job, but a high paying one that can let us live with a degree of comfort and security. “Can the child write exams, will they do well, can they compete, will they fit into society, what will they do when they grow up” are common questions that educators answer. As the child moves higher up the education ladder, the entire focus shifts onto getting a good job and “settling down” in life.
This is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the purpose of education as being linked to a materialistic job and revenue and quality of life probably predates the industrial revolution by centuries. In a sense, the reliance on external parameters of life as an outcome of education is quite ancient. People learnt so they can move further “up” in stations of life or to obtain an increased influence. (The “powerful” suppressed transfer of knowledge, the “oppressed” rebelled to gain knowledge through any means possible). The focus became on using education to get a job, the priority is a job and the security it offers. That focus diverged from a focus on understanding and navigating the self through rapidly changing complex life scenarios. The life we had a decade back is not the life we see around us now. Things change and change rapidly. A decade back a cloud was probably used in a conversation in the context of rain, now the cloud is rarely used in the context of rain and more in the context of digital storage. A decade back, cards were used to play leisurely games but the mention of cards now runs around the ability to use the money. The purpose of education keeps shifting but while staying within and running around the boundaries of skills to find a job and have more money ( and hence, theoretically a better quality of life).
Is that the outcome that we want from an education? A primary outcome of a good comfortable job and secondary outcomes of all the perks associated with that?
If we explore it, the narrow focus on a job narrows down the skill sets down to what is required for the job, and what is narrowed down further to what will allow you to excel in the job. Training programs and educational courses then pre-define a set of outcomes, at the end of the course, you will be able to do x,y, or z. If you are lucky, you may have a baseline assessment as well to compare your performance when you started with what you know after you finish the course. Assessment is usually immediately after you finish so that you can remember better rather than later where the assessment may focus on what one retains and the way it has been applied.
As work and jobs become more niche oriented, the skill sets also become very focused on narrower endpoints and the box of education, thinking and analysis now narrow down. When these narrow down, the knowledge that has to be transferred narrows down and falls into the domain of information rather than knowledge. When that happens, processes can become mechanical and when processes become mechanical, machines probably can do better.
What is the outcome that we want from education? The outcome has an important part in determining the process and provider. Your clarity on the outcome you want helps you determine the process and provider that can get you there.
Something to think over. What is the outcome you want?