Let us prepare teachers to engage the fourth industrial revolution

Dr Khotso de Wee argues that robots will never be able to take the place of real teachers. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images
Dr Khotso de Wee argues that robots will never be able to take the place of real teachers. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

This is a response to Professor Chika Sehoole’s article on why teachers can never be replaced.

Professor Chika Sehoole’s article titled Teachers can’t be replaced, published in City Press (October 6 2019), was nothing short of inspirational.

Read: Why teachers can never be replaced

I support the core of his argument that good teachers cannot be replaced by robots.

Like him, hardworking and dedicated teachers were instrumental in motivating me to work hard, make sacrifices and, through doggedness and dedication achieve my academic dreams and prepare me to play a meaningful role as a citizen of our republic.

I can also recall a few examples of my dedicated teachers in Mangaung.

Ntate Sefate Phakisi in Mothusi Higher Primary School and Ntate Nathan Sidyiyo in Moemedi High School stimulated our passion for choral music.

Moemedi High School principal James Letuka demonstrated bold leadership in the face of the 1980s riots to minimise school disruption, and smoking anywhere, be it in the school premises or out in the township, was severely punished and prohibited.

Mr Shuping Seboko demonstrated that mathematics and football are not mutually exclusive.

Mr Monchusi, through improvisation, tried his best to make us appreciate physics with a laboratory that was almost empty of equipment for experimentation.

The late Mr Bucibo exhorted us to “scorn delights and live laborious days”, and with a little bit of help from his cane substantially improved my standard eight biology mark.

Ntate Ramosilinyana Sempe sharpened our intellect by challenging us to write a composition titled “Bophelo Ke Ntwa”.

It amazes me to this day that, having started as 19 year olds, we continue to write it.

While I agree with Professor Sehoole that teachers will continue to have a place in the classroom, we must be careful, however, of lulling teachers into complacency.

As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed, change, in the field of education and society in general, has become the only constant.

The field of education, in particular, and the workplace in general, on the African continent and elsewhere, have been subjected to an enormous amount of change in the last fifty years characterised by the introduction of technology.

In the last 25 years, South African teachers have been subjected to a plethora of changes.

These include:

. The deracialisation of education;

. The integration of former homeland department’s education into one South African education system;

. The multiple reviews of curricula in order to align it with the policy positions of the new government, and current Constitutional norms and principles;

. The review of the role of school inspectors;

. The abolition of corporal punishment;

. The tension between teacher unionism and professionalism; and

. The introduction of new technology such as iPads and social media.

Given the rapidity of these changes, it is not clear to me how the departments of basic and higher education have prepared programmes to prepare and empower teachers to cope with these changes.

Like Professor Sehoole, I find it difficult to see how robots can replace disciplined, dedicated and competent teachers in the classroom.

Robots will not be able to make on-the-spot judgments about the needs of children from less privileged backgrounds.

They may not be able to deal with bullies on the school grounds. They will not be able to appreciate emotional baggage that boys and girls bring into the classroom.

Neither can they make judgements about how to manage spontaneous school protests nor comprehend social circumstances that inhibit the completion of homework.

The country is currently faced with a breakdown of discipline in schools that is characterised by pupils stabbing each other, and school girls being impregnated by teachers.

These are not matters that robots can deal with.

I do not think, however, we should lull teachers into complacency.

Given the proliferation of technological changes in society, we should ask how teachers have been assisted to engage and cope with change.

What we should prioritise are change management programmes in education to prepare teachers for the inevitability of technological change.

We should analyse and understand the implications of the fourth industrial revolution in the classroom, and prepare teachers accordingly to engage technology and enhance teaching and learning.

We should consider questions like: How can teachers be empowered to instruct robots to set up science laboratories?

Can they assist teachers to mark multiple questions exams? Can they assist with the computation of test marks?

Can they play a role in preparing school reports? Can social media be harnessed to play videos that can facilitate and reinforce learning in the classroom?

It is clear that we cannot wish away technological advances.

What we can do is conceive programmes to prepare our teachers, and empower them to use modern technology to enhance and support their roles in the classroom.

This is critical because the current cohort of learners will be in a global competition with children from other societies who have been prepared for these changes.

We should therefore not waste a moment to ensure South Africa becomes globally competitive, and this begins in the classroom.

• Dr Khotso de Wee writes in his capacity as a life-long student of education, and a citizen of the republic.

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