InTuition taster: Our natural ability to learn

In 2013 researchers at the Oxford Martin School, part of the University of Oxford, ranked 702 jobs by their susceptibility to being taken over by robots. The most likely to be automated was telemarketer and the least likely, recreational therapist. Among the most futureproof jobs? Teacher. 

By Alex Beard

Alex Beard For Research 19Though teaching won’t be automated anytime soon, it is due an upgrade. Over the past three years, I’ve travelled the world to explore the future of the profession.

In Wanhangdu Road Primary School in Shanghai, I observed a primary school teacher conducting kids through a highly-stylised 35-minute maths mastery lesson. There, in line with the latest cognitive science, learning is a question of practice makes perfect, laying the foundations on which expertise can be built. 

Virtual teachers are at work too. They’re not androids but intelligent algorithms inside virtual environments. Rocketship Schools in Silicon Valley each have a learning lab, a cavernous room that can seat multiple classes at once. From the age of five, learners spend at least an hour a day in the lab completing maths and language problems on their laptops under the supervision of a non-teacher. It saves teacher time and Rocketeers outperform their peers.

In a classroom in Vantaa, Finland, I observed a teacher applying the principles by which Google creates its most successful teams to his classroom. He saw his role, above all, as helping students grow their ability to learn individually and together, coaching them on their qualities of creativity, perseverance or cooperation.

In the future, we teachers will be more important than ever, continuing to be deeply knowledgeable in our subject area, becoming expert in the latest neuroscience, growing our capacity to coach and motivate, and ably outsourcing elements of our practice to smart machines to augment student learning.

In a world in which everything is running out, human intelligence is our only inextinguishable resource and learning our most valuable commodity. Teachers are our last hope in the cultivation of that potential. Let’s teach them well.

Alex Beard taught English in a London comprehensive school before joining the Teach For All global network of educational organisations. Alex’s book, Natural Born Learners: Our Incredible Capacity to Learn and How We Can Harness It, was published in April 2018.

Member Offer

Readers of InTuition may order copies of Natural Born Learners by Alex Beard for the special price of £16 (RRP £18.99) by calling 01903 828503 and quoting ref no: PB148. UK postage & packing free, overseas add £1.60.

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