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The True Cost of Replacing Teachers with Computers

Lisa Mims

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TheIf administrators start replacing teachers with computers to save money, I can't help but wonder what the true cost of this "educational evolution" might be.


As I listened to my favorite radio station this morning, the hosts made reference to a CNN article called Will teachers be replaced by computer?”  The article debates the merits of interactive learning on the computer and how it can sometimes be more effective than classroom instruction with a teacher. While the hosts made jokes, I took this question seriously.


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According to the CNN article:

  • “As long as schools measure performance simply by rote memorization on multiple-choice tests, no teacher can compete with instant access to the world’s information. Unless schools change, more and more teachers will find themselves replaced by computers.”

While I understand this side of the debate, I can't help but think they're missing the point. We should not measure performance based on rote memorization.  As a country, we are always pushing critical thinking.  In the classroom, we are all given copies of Bloom’s Taxonomy, and told to encourage higher level thinking. 


In reality though, we know what we are asked to do:  get our students to pass a test at the end of the school year.  The author of this article is correct, a computer can do this. But it raises a number of questions for me. 


The Question of Internet Access

More than 50% of my students do not have access to the Internet.  They might have computers in their homes, but Internet access is not a necessity for most of them, not when the bills have to be paid.

The Question of Individualized Learning


For the life of me, I can not see how computerized instruction can meet the needs of all students. The article's argument assumes these "virtual learning environments and interactive textbooks" require little-to-no work from the instructor. Will different programs be developed for each student? What if students need more individualized attention to understand the concept behind these online learning activities?


The Question of Student Motivation

And let’s say each student does have Internet access, it’s hard enough to get some students to work in the classroom under your nose.  What is their motivation at home?  At home, with food, friends, music, and the latest tech toys, who do you think will win that battle in most homes, school or fun? Is the online instructor with 3x the number of students going to be able to intervene effectively to motivate that student?


The Question of Social Issues

Think about the child who comes to school and receives the only two meals of the day they will get. The child who has someone notice that they are being abused.  The child who has no friends outside of school, or lives in a home where the television is his/her only friend. By computerizing education, you lose the unspoken roles teachers play as role models and caring adults in these children's lives.


Also, I struggle to get parental involvement with students I see every day. How would I hold parents accountable?


The Question of Human Interaction

Presently, our students are lacking in everyday social skills due to texting, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. If you remove human interaction, how will they be able to function when they enter the work force or college?  Sometimes, a child needs a hug, or a smile just to make it through the day, and not one they get through a monitor.


It seems to me that proponents of these plans aren't looking for the best ways to educate students. I am sick of hearing “we’re all about the kids” and everything we do is “for the kids.”  It’s evident that this idea has nothing to do with our kids, it’s about money, and it always will be.


The article shows that this decision is more about the bottom line than anything else:

  • “Though teachers like Chris Kirchner of Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami have called Florida’s e-learning labs “nearly criminal” for removing the human component from instruction, schools teetering on bankruptcy will reasonably look for cheaper solutions to meet federal funding standards. Simply, interactive websites and textbooks can teach fractions and the stages of cell reproduction every bit as well as a lecturer.”

Ed tech has its place in the classroom, but pretending that games can replace teachers will cost our students' education far more than we can afford.


Where do you stand in the teacher vs. computer debate? Share in the comments section!


Reprinted with permission of the author, Lisa Mims. Lisa is a 26-year teaching veteran and writer of the Diary of a Public School Teacher blog.