Future of Work

Artificial Intelligence Could Free Up 13 Hours a Week for Teachers, Report Finds

By Alyson Klein — January 29, 2020 2 min read
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Teachers: Could you use an extra 13 hours in your work week, or for your personal life?

That might be possible in the future, according to a report published this week by McKinsey & Company “How Artificial Intelligence Will Impact K-12 Teachers.”

The report estimates that 20 to 40 percent of the tasks teachers spend time on—grading, lesson planning, general administration—could be outsourced to technology.

But, the report notes, AI can’t inspire students, resolve conflicts, or mentor and coach. Robots could free teachers up to focus on those more important—and more rewarding—tasks.

Additional time could “help support social-emotional learning and the development of the 21st-century skills that will be necessary to thrive in an increasingly automated workplace,” the report says. “It will enable teachers to foster one-on-one relationships with students, encourage self-regulation and perseverance, and help students collaborate with each other.”

Or it could give educators extra time to focus on their personal lives—which in turn might reduce stress/burnout and make the profession more attractive.

One area that shouldn’t be outsourced, according to the report? The actual teaching. Widespread use of technology for direct instruction may actually do student learning more harm than good, it said. The most recent Program for International Student Assessment suggested that students who used technology in the classroom performed worse than kids who didn’t. The National Assessment for Educational Progress, or NAEP, cast similar doubts about how welll technology aids learning.

Automation could also play a role in halting teacher turnover. The report notes that teachers are working an average of 50 hours a week. And that’s been a drain on the profession with 16 percent turnover a year.

Importantly, the McKinsey analysts don’t envision teachers being replaced by robots. Instead, they estimate that the profession will grow by 5 to 24 percent between 2016 and 2030.

Of course, automating teacher tasks comes with a whole host of logistical and ethical issues. For one thing, it’s not clear at this point that the technology is sophisticated enough to grade student work. And then there are the privacy considerations with any technology that looks at student data. What’s more, AI algorithms are notoriously biased, which could have implications for tasks like grading.

Still, at least some teachers do see the potential of AI to help with some of the time-consuming—but not neccesarily student-centric—tasks. For instance, according to an Education Week survey conducted earlier this year, 44 percent of teachers thought AI could help in “taking attendance, making copies, and other administrative tasks.” Another 30 percent suggested grading and another 30 percent hoped technology could make it easier to communicate with English-language learners.

Want more? Check out this explainer on what teachers need to know about artificial intelligence.

Image: Getty

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.