Robert Važan

Automating education

You might have heard that education is a good career, because it is hard to automate. That's not really true. While harder to automate than average, there are lots of opportunities to cut jobs across the education system. Recent developments in artificial intelligence mean that everything can be automated. It's just a matter of prioritizing what to automate first. The technology is already here. It's just that education, like every other government-funded service, is slow to adopt automation.

Automation is not some scary job- and quality-cutting monster like some people would like to present it. It is the solution for shortage of qualified teachers. Automation can make unlimited education available to everyone with consistently high quality and with uncompromising personal attention provided to every learner. All that while reducing total cost of education for all students and for the society.

Education as a high-demand and growing job market is just an illusion. Work opportunities in education are largely the result of overstaffing and inefficiency, both of which are a consequence of the way governments manage public services (in particular, healthcare suffers from the same problems). This isn't going to last however. Sooner or later, some reform-minded politician will come and slaughter this fat pig.

The first and easiest victims will be non-pedagogical personnel: administration, cleaning, IT, and cooking. Administration is automatable using 1990s database software, some websites, and some clever organizational changes. Cleaning standardized and unoccupied school buildings furnished with standard equipment is a joy to automate at scale. Proper IT asset management, virtualization, and platform standardization remove the need for "school admins". Cooking is a bit more of a challenge than cleaning, but it too is highly automatable when standardized and centrally managed.

Teaching is not that simple, but there's a way to sidestep it. Nobody is going to build robot teachers. The path to automation in teaching is to complement, augment, and bypass. The very first thing that has to be done is to provide computer for every child from first grade upwards. School computers have a number of applications, which aid automation in several ways:

In order to get the full benefit, use of computers must be accompanied with organizational changes. Teaching process must be standardized, so that teaching resources can be centrally produced to minimize out-of-classroom workload on teachers.

Finally, curriculums all over the world are stuffed with utterly useless nonsense. Merely teaching the right things can result in graduates who are more capable and yet complete their training in less time. Useful curriculum increases efficiency without requiring any fancy technology at all.