The future of education

In March 2020 the world went mad. A new virus called Covid-19 started spreading rapidly among humans and by the end of that month most countries were engaged in a horrible new way of life called lock down. As with many other countries, lock-down in South Africa started with the closure of our schools.

The schools were given a minimum period of four business days to prepare for lock down and, in the case of my sons’ school, a home school programme. Fortunately, their school had seen the way the wind was blowing and had started preparing for a potential closure period earlier in the month. Even so, the teaching staff were not afforded much time to get themselves ready to go completely on-line with teaching.

On Thursday, the 18th of March my sons started on-line learning. It wasn’t badly implemented, despite the short timeline, and they had had Google classroom meetings hosted by their teachers, on-line assignments, YouTube video sessions and a lot of other help with all of their subjects.

At the end of March their school closed for the holiday and the teachers worked diligently to make improvements to the on-line programme. School reopened on the 6th of May and my boys continued with their on-line learning until the closure of the second term on Friday, 31 July. They even wrote examinations for two weeks under lock down conditions.

A few weeks ago, a good blogging friend of mine, Jim Borden, a university lecturer wrote this post One of the questions he asks in this post is the replacement of teachers by Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) and on-line learning likely. A most interesting question, especially in light of the current scenario where millions of children have all been testing out this theory. So what do I think after my 11 week baptism of hell with home schooling? Does it make sense to replace teachers with AI?

My answer is a resounding NO! There are some advantages to an on-line learning programme. It would be much cheaper. There would be no need of large buildings to accommodate students and all the related furniture. There would be no need for cleaners, caterers and caretakers.

It would also be easier, I wouldn’t need to sit in traffic every day taking them to and from school.

It would also be far less time consuming as there would be no distractions in the form of socialising, team sports, individual sports, debating, chess, clubs and the numerous other things that fill up a child’s school day. It has also been proven statistically that children retain more information that they learn through on-line learning than in a classroom [personally, I’m not completely convinced about the correctness of this particular statistic].

So why then don’t I believe teaching works as well on-line as in the classroom?

I believe that all children, from the youngest to the oldest in our school system, need the human interaction with a teacher and their peers in order to stay emotionally balanced and motivated. People are social animals and they find isolation very difficult. My younger son has told me repeatedly that he misses his friends and the routine of the school day.

Even my older son, who is highly motivated and diligent has found it difficult to stay focused and disciplined during the lockdown period. The lack of routines and contact with other learners and teachers makes it feel a bit purposeless, even if it isn’t.

I also believe the children learn a lot from socialising. Working and life isn’t all about output and sitting at a computer on your own all day. It is about learning to work in teams and motivate others to deliver to deadlines. It is also about brain storming and working together to problem solve. These are all life skills that you cannot learn alone in front of your computer.

I am not going to go into the benefits of sport and extra curricular activities here, but they are numerous and the lack of these past times over the past five months has been has been very trying for children, and adults too.

Of course, there are also the other more basic issues that make on-line learning difficult. Many children lack access to the technology required for on-line learning, including a reliable internet and a computer. No everyone has these, but even if they did, it would not change my view on the relevance of teachers and teaching in a physical situation.

What do you think? Do you think teachers could be replaced by AI and on-line learning programmes? Has your view on this changed over the past few months? Let me know in the comments.

I made a Covid-19 memories cake recently which caricatured the nursery rhyme, The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. I created a young mother with a washing basket full of clothing outside her shoe home. Her many children are all sitting, socially distanced, home schooling. They all have laptops and headsets.

Old woman and her home schooling children
Here is a close up of the home schooling children

About Robbie Cheadle


Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with seven published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.

I have recently branched into adult and young adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first supernatural book published in that name, Through the Nethergate, is now available.

I have participated in a number of anthologies:

  1. Two short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Dark Visions, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre;
  2. Three short stories in Death Among Us, an anthology of murder mystery stories, edited by Stephen Bentley;
  3. Three short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Nightmareland, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre; and
  4. Two short stories in Whispers of the Past, an anthology of paranormal stories, edited by Kaye Lynne Booth.

I also have a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.

Find Robbie Cheadle




Twitter: BakeandWrite

Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram

Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books

Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Growing Bookworms” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.

64 Comments on “The future of education”

  1. Jim Borden says:

    great post, Robbie. I agree that there are many benefits to students that online learning can’t replace. Socialization is critical, as are extracurricular activities, and AI can’t replace those.

    However, there are are some great online learning tools that could replace much of the drudgery of teaching. Such tools never get tired of going over and over the same lesson until the student masters it. The ability for these tools to create individualized learning paths is also something that would be difficult for a teacher to do when they have a class of more than a handful of students.

    I think online learning requires, at a minimum, a motivated student and engaged parents, which is the case in your household. However, the learning tools need to be engaging as well. They are getting better at this.

    Ideally, a school would use a combination of a master teacher and some great AI tools to maximize the learning process.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thought provoking post Robbie.. I agree completely on the socialisation side of school as the world only gets more complex in college and the workplace and interaction on many levels is required. Even if more people work from home they still need to communicate effectively. I also agree with Jim that there is a place for online tools to facilitate retention of subject matter. I discovered the difference from learning a language at school and learning via a very different online platform and that convinced me that online learning is appropriate at different stages of our education. But face to face in a classroom still needs to be in place too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Sally, I agree that when you are older and your additional learning is by choice and in a field you enjoy, on-line learning is very beneficial. It all comes back to the self motivation. Unfortunately, kids usually aren’t very motivated to learn, especially the subjects they don’t like. I sometimes do training and I much prefer doing it live than via a virtual classroom. I feel I can engage much better with my audience if they are live. It is very easy to just carry on with other work if a course is virtual and compulsory.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I think where online instruction falls down is when it tries to closely replicate what happens in a brick-and-mortar classroom. They’re two very different learning environments with their own characteristics to facilitate learning. The question for me when it comes to children, is which learning environment is better-suited to the developmental stage of the child? (That’s without the consideration of a pandemic, of course.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Having now experienced learning at home on-line for five months, Liz, I am of the view that a school environment is much better and can’t be replaced. Of course, I am talking about nice schools with proper facilities and good teachers. Some of our rural schools have no equipment and lack even toilets. Those children wouldn’t have the means to do on-line schooling anyway. This is a huge problem here in South Africa. Closure of the schools means a huge number of our learners have just missed five months of schooling. I don’t know how you catch that up. You can’t keep them all back as what happens to next years new entrants? What happens to the universities if the final year students don’t graduate? A huge conundrum and our corrupt government which has misused a lot of funding that could have fixed some of this is now panicking.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m not familiar with the school system in South Africa. It does sound as though it’s in dire straits, particuarly in the rural areas. You’re right that it’s not reasonable to expect children who have missed five months of school to just “catch up” at the same time they’re expected to learn the next grade level’s content.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. CarolCooks2 says:

    Thought provoking, Robbie.. Of course the human factor is important as well as access to technology.. Both teaching methods will I am sure have a place in the future but balance will need to be applied.. A good post with good observations x

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Carol, thanks for adding your thoughts. If you’d asked me at the beginning of the year, I would have said that their was no reason why home schooling couldn’t match the school environment. It can, academically, if the learner has the correct tools, parents and motivations, but there is no social side. Also, most kids don’t have those three things so the learning fails.

      Liked by 2 people

      • CarolCooks2 says:

        Absolutely, Robbie and a working parent or a parent who just doesn’t have the skills are a stumbling block a happy medium is the much change in the offing..quite scary for many methinks 🙂 x

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Robbie's inspiration and commented:

    I am over at Writing to be Read with a post about the future of education. Thanks for hosting me, Kaye Lynne Booth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s my pleasure to have you on the WtbR team, Robbie. This is a great post on such a relevant topic, and I’m sorry I’m so tardy in dropping here this week, As you know, I usually read, comment and promote the same day the post comes out. Last week I didn’t manage to do any of that.


  6. Norah says:

    Well done, Robbie. I don’t think teachers can be replaced with AI for everything – especially social-emotional development. I think there are some things that can be learned effectively from computers, though, but understanding really develops with the opportunity to discuss one’s thinking. It’s difficult to have a sensible conversation with a computer.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Things have changed so much. Children’s futures are up in the air, because education.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. petespringerauthor says:

    I’m 100% in your camp, Robbie. I’ve often told parents who choose to home school their children that the biggest things these children miss out on are learning to interact with their peers in healthy ways. Since most jobs require teamwork, this is one of the most underappreciated parts of school.

    I sometimes let the students choose their academic partners and teams, (most prefer this) but the main drawback of that is you always have children who no one wants to work with. So sad! By assigning their partner(s), they work with a variety of different personality types—good practice for the real world.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I always prefer it when the children are assigned to groups rather than choosing. They are not particularly inclined to do any work when they work in groups with friends. A bit of competitiveness with other kids in groups is wonderfully motivating.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Susan Scott says:

    Good questions needing to be asked as we contemplate the (unknown) future. Children need social interaction with peers for emotional & psychological development would be my first concern if remote learning were to become the norm as this would be curtailed – thanks Robbie, going to check out link above –

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Darlene says:

    I agree with you, Robbie, we all need human interaction. Speaking with many parents, I have learned that some of the children did much better with on-line learning. I imagine it will be a combination of the two in the future. Parents also learned new technical skills which is never a bad thing. There is always a silver lining. Bravo to you and all the parents who had to deal with this situation. Not sure how I would have managed it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • My older son, Greg, did amazingly well academically in the on-line environment, Darlene. It didn’t help his OCD and obsessive nature at all though. He had no other people to mitigate his intense nature and that isn’t a good thing. It isn’t all about high marks, life requires balance.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Agreed, Robbie. Book learning is only part of what kids learn at school.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Lots of nourishing food for thought in troublesome times… Sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Thought provoking and compelling. This calls all of us, whether or not we have children, to ponder a world of AI and the long-term damage which could ensue. Ever seen the film Westworld? Way ahead of its time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love Westworld and have watched it several time. A really chilling story, Annette. The impact of working from home on adults is not wonderful either. It is to intense and there are no proper breaks taken in this at home environment. There is no separation between work and home, work and leisure. It is unhealthy.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. dgkaye says:

    This is such a tough one Robbie. All your points are valid. And my concern is just that – the children will sorely lose out on physical interaction – worse than us adults are going through. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  15. olganm says:

    I agree with you, Robbie. Certain types of learning are easily replaced by online training, but others not so much, and school is about more than learning a subject. In general, I also prefer face to face courses, as sometimes you can learn as much, if not more, from interacting with other students and exchanging ideas, than from the teachers. Of course, a certain amount of interaction might be possible online, but it depends on the technology and how adept both sides are. Thanks for your comments.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Olga, I agree, I didn’t touch on the benefits of peer interaction to much here, but I studied alone at home and worked during the day. I missed out on a lot of the interaction, discussion and pleasure of my courses and university life.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Good points, Robbie, and I agree with you. Even for adults (I teach creative writing to adults) I’ve found that my “in-person” teaching is much more effective for my students than the on-line teaching I’ve been doing since March. Thank goodness I know the students that I teach on-line (since they’ve been with me for at least a year). They can “hear” my voice in my writing instructions, but still we miss the on-site interaction so much. Just doing it ‘virtually’ is NOT the same. And for children, so much is lost through Zoom instead of face-to-face contact with a teacher.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for adding your thoughts, Pam. I have also found this even with lecturing adults which I also do from time to time. I certainly don’t think the future of schools will be on-line but the universities might be different. Time will tell.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Teri Polen says:

    Agree completely with you, Robbie. AI should never replace teachers. I’m also doubtful about that statistic saying kids retain more with online learning. As with adults and remote jobs, some kids do fine at home with remote learning. Others are more productive and thrive when they’re around other people. Through-provoking post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Teri. That is true. Some adult manage better than others. I’ve done really well up until two weeks ago. I booked leave because I’m exhausted and then a new job came up and my leave was cancelled. I have really trudged through the past two weeks and feel quite irritable. I’m so glad it’s Friday today.

      Liked by 2 people

  18. Jennie says:

    Hear, hear Robbie!!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. carhicks says:

    I can’t agree more with your comments Robbie. My grandchildren need the socialization. As well, my grandson is on the autism spectrum and his frustration level during the closure of schools and remote learning escalated big time. It might be good for some, but not for all.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Carla, I don’t think it is good for anyone, to be isolated all the time. It is nice to be alone some of the time, but weeks of not seeing anyone outside of your family circle puts a lot of strain on relationships. I am hoping my boys will go back to school at the end of August.

      Liked by 2 people

  20. markbierman says:

    I agree with you Robbie. Children need the socialization.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I totally agree, Robbie, that AI can’t replace real teachers. There are parts of education that AI can provide, but I think the best education is inquisitive and human. I want education to encourage the growth of well-rounded people, not just boxes of information. Great post. Thanks for hosting, Kayelynne.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s always a pleasure to have Robbie’s posts featured, and this one is so relevant to all of us during these trying times. Thanks for visiting and commenting, D.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Diana, thank you for adding your thoughts here. It seems most people who have read this post appreciate the unique role in education played by teachers and the need for human interaction in the learning process. As you mention, there are benefits to AI, my children have used programmes to enhance their maths and their reading, but the underlying skills involved were taught by good teachers.

      Liked by 2 people

  22. acflory says:

    As I was reading your post, Robbie, something struck me – give a kid a choice between going outside to kick a football or stay in front of a computer playing an MMO /together with their friends/ and most would choose the MMO. Kids do socialise online, they simply lack the technology to do the same thing during their online education…because the technology isn’t there yet.

    But now imagine if you could have a virtual classroom where the kids can see each other and the teacher in real time. The teacher explains the lesson and then, just as in a face-to-face classroom, the kids work at the skill required for the lesson on their own. At lunch time, they close their digital books and kill orcs with their mates.

    Making sure that every child had access to the hardware and a decent internet connection would be hard but not impossible.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Meeks, you do make a good point, but, interestingly enough, I was saying to my husband an hour ago about how I misjudged a work situation. I was giving some instruction on a complex issue and the recipients of the information were very unresponsive to my comments and discussion points. I thought they didn’t want my help and decided to just walk away and leave them to it. It turns out they were completely overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. I realised that if the conversation had been face-to-face as opposed to over Zoom, I would have interpreted the situation better and had more understanding.

      Liked by 2 people

      • acflory says:

        I’ve never used Zoom, but I can well understand the medium complicating the process – it’s a lot easier to hide when you’re using a digital medium.

        That said, I’ve had a similar experience teaching face-to-face as well. Most recently, I was teaching a class of people in their 80s and 90s, and sometimes they were too embarrassed to admit they didn’t understand.

        Back when I was teaching secondary, I found that kids in classroom situations often ‘act up’ for the same reason. I guess that’s why I believe one-on-one is the best way to teach. If we could get the immediacy and body language feedback of one-on-one teaching via a digital medium, I think we could revolutionize teaching. At the moment, a great deal of classroom teaching is more child minding than actual teaching, certainly in the lower, more unruly grades. Teachers have to tread a tight wire while balancing discipline on one hand and the dissemination of knowledge on the other. It’s hard.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Hi Meeks, I appreciate that it must be very difficult to teach. In the government schools in South Africa there are over 40 kids in a class. I don’t see how you can teach that many. It’s more like crowd control than teaching, especially with youngsters. My boys are in a private school, but there are still 25 boys in their classes. I have to keep a sharp eye on Michael to ensure he doesn’t flounder given he is special needs. I hope some good will come of this time and clever and enterprising people will use the knowledge gained to benefit our children and their children going forward.

          Liked by 2 people

        • acflory says:

          I haven’t taught in the public school system [here] in decades but back when I did, average class sizes were about 30. Quite a bit less than the 40 over your way, but still an up hill battle to teach. I’ve been teaching people most of my life and I really want to see a ‘better’ way emerge from this crisis.

          Liked by 2 people

  23. […] “Teaching Children to Read“, “Introducing Non-Fiction to Children“, “The Future of Education“, “The Great Roald Dahl“, “Chapter Books vs. Short Stories for […]


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