The teacher is dead - long live teachers! - Hurstpierpoint College

The teacher is dead – long live teachers!

The rise of digital technology and increased pupil access to educational platforms has created a growing movement of those who forecast the demise of teachers and the teaching profession as we know it. Indeed, the future predicted by Yuval Noah Harari in his book, Homo Deus, where computer algorithms can outperform humans in assessing and responding to individual needs – the core skills of the teaching profession – conjures up a world in which children will receive all of their education sitting at home in front of a screen interacting with educational programmes rather than other human beings. And yet, our most recent experience with remote teaching and learning would suggest that this projection about the automation of education, cutting out the middle person, has been shown to be flawed.

Imparting knowledge

Let’s put aside the divisions which the pandemic has highlighted, between those who have access to technology and those who do not – and whether it will ever be possible to eradicate digital injustice to level the playing field. However, online learning has – for many – reinforced what teachers, those on the inside, have always known. There is more to education than the mere transmission of facts, high quality education is also about relationships. The best teachers not only impart their knowledge in an effective and efficient manner, but the relationships forged with their pupils mean they inspire passion for their subjects. They nurture collaborative exploration and discovery of knowledge and meaning. During the pandemic, despite the best efforts and considerable innovation of teachers, the quality of these relationships could not help but fall victim to the constraints of online learning.

Cameras on

‘Teaching into the void’ will be a concept familiar to all who posed a question and waited for a pupil to respond. Even with the insistence of ‘cameras on’, the dynamic of class-based teacher-to-pupil and pupil-to-pupil interaction could not be wholly replicated. The most common complaint from pupils was not about the quality of the learning but centred on their feelings of isolation as they worked on their own from home. Pupils’ wellbeing and mental health faltered. The use of collaborative learning spaces such as breakout rooms and channels helped to some extent but could not replace the social dynamics and interaction that is found within a classroom environment.


And what about those pupils who had the technology but were not willing to engage? Harari’s vision of the future assumes that all are sufficiently motivated to interact with the digital world. Not all teenagers are compliant and benefit greatly from the watchful eye of teachers in guiding, persuading and cajoling. When quality relationships are removed from the education equation, however efficient and effective the transmission of knowledge, there is something missing which is vital to the learning process.

Teacher training

Interestingly, this year has seen an increase in the number of people applying for initial teacher training. In a global crisis, when the focus shifted to what really matters, education – alongside health care provision – emerged centre stage. So, is the future bright for these new recruits or will their value and careers be truncated by the march of technology? I believe they will join the profession with the certainty that teachers will be pivotal to the learning process for many years to come.

Michelle Zeidler, Deputy Head Academic, Hurst College


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Find out more about Yuval Noah Harari and his book Homo Deus